WASHINGTON (AP) — Attorney General Loretta Lynch deflected a barrage of Republican questions Tuesday about her decision not to prosecute Hillary Clinton for her use of private email, saying it "would not be appropriate" to discuss the matter in her role as the nation's top law enforcement official.
GOP members of the House Judiciary Committee voiced frustration, with the panel's chairman, Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, telling Lynch her reticence was "an abdication of your responsibility." The panel's Democrats tried to change the subject to issues of community policing and gun control in what seemed a warmup for the fall's campaign season.
Lynch repeatedly referred the committee to last week's testimony by FBI Director James Comey, who gave an unusually detailed account of the investigation in a nearly five-hour appearance before another House panel and described the rationale for his advice that no charges be brought. Comey is a lifelong Republican who served as deputy attorney general during George W. Bush's GOP administration.
"I accepted that recommendation. I saw no reason not to accept it," Lynch testified. "The matter was handled like any other matter."
Republicans demanded to know how Clinton could have avoided prosecution under a "gross negligence" law when Comey had described her and her aides as "extremely careless" in their handling of classified information. They also grilled Lynch over what she'd talked about with former President Bill Clinton in a June 27 tarmac conversation aboard her government plane.
Lynch said the conversation had been entirely social in nature, and that she'd never discussed Clinton's email practices with either Bill or Hillary Clinton. Nor had she discussed with them a position in the Hillary Clinton administration, she said.
She reiterated that her announcement that she would be accepting the FBI's recommendation was an attempt to remove the specter of political interference from the case, after the chance meeting with Clinton raised a perception problem.
But Republicans suggested that Lynch, a Democratic political appointee, only worsened the perception that Hillary Clinton was getting special treatment and had been wrong to announce ahead of time that she would be accepting the investigative team's guidance for the former secretary of state and Democratic presidential candidate.
"I think your actions made it worse, I really do," said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio.
Despite the prodding, Lynch wouldn't budge in her refusal to discuss the investigation and the decision-making process.
"I refer you to Director Comey's discussion for that," she said at one point. "It would not be appropriate in my role to discuss the specific facts," she said at another.
The deflection irritated committee Republicans already angry that Clinton would not face charges over her handling of classified information when she relied on a private email server for government business during her tenure as secretary of state. After failing to get Lynch to answer his questions, Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona remarked on "your prodigious dissimulation skills" before withdrawing further questions.
Goodlatte, the panel's chairman, said Clinton's carelessness with classified information "suggests she cannot be trusted with the nation's most sensitive secrets if she is nevertheless elected president."
The hearing played out amid a roiling national debate over police violence, and committee Democrats repeatedly tried to turn the conversation to that issue and other topics as they criticized Republicans for dwelling on the Democrats' likely presidential nominee and her email practices.
"Rome is burning, there is blood on the streets of many American cities and we are beating this email horse to death," said Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., called the hearing a political "joy ride" in the midst of a national plague of gun violence.
Republicans asked the Justice Department Monday to investigate whether Clinton lied under oath in earlier testimony to a congressional committee investigating the Benghazi, Libya, attacks that killed four Americans while Clinton was secretary of state. Clinton has said she did not send or receive emails marked classified when she sent them, claims that Comey contradicted last week.
But Comey also said there was no evidence that Clinton or her aides intended to violate laws governing classified actions, and therefore no reasonable prosecutor would bring a case.
In her opening statement Lynch touched on law enforcement and policing issues, including last week's sniper shooting of five police officers in Dallas by a suspect who said he wanted to kill white officers. That followed police killings of Philando Castile, who was fatally shot near St. Paul, Minnesota, and Alton Sterling, who was shot in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
"As we gather here this morning, that sense of safety has been shaken by the series of devastating events that rocked our nation last week," Lynch said.
Lynch, who was sworn in as attorney general in April 2015 on the same day as racially tinged riots occurred in Baltimore, has repeatedly said that one of her top priorities in office is to improve relationships between police and communities.
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