Run Away: Earnest Won't Say If The Optics Over AG Lynch's Private Meeting With Bill Clinton Is Bad

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Jul 01, 2016 1:10 PM
Run Away: Earnest Won't Say If The Optics Over AG Lynch's Private Meeting With Bill Clinton Is Bad

UPDATE: Lynch said at the Aspen Institute that she's not recusing herself

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Leah wrote about the ongoing fallout from Attorney General Loretta Lynch's decision to meet privately  to stand aside in determining the outcome of the investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s use of a private email system after a meeting between her and with former president Bill Clinton, which was reported in the extensively in the press. Katie noted that Lynch’s secret rendezvous with Slick Willy occurred in Phoenix earlier this week, prior to the release of the House Select Committee on Benghazi’s report on the attack following a 2-year investigation. Again, all of this while Bill’s wife is under the microscope by the Justice Department over the use of her email. They said their conversation was mostly about grandchildren.

So, it appears that Donald Trump didn’t commit the first great optics foul-up, as so many had predicted he would—but the Clintons. They ruined any chance that the outcome of the investigation wouldn’t be viewed as politically motivated. Even former members of the Obama White House said this was an unforced error on the part of Lynch. She knew better.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest had a hard time defending Lynch’s decision. When asked by Reuters’ Jeff Mason and CNN’s Michelle Kosinski about what the White House feels about this informal summit Clinton and Lynch had, Earnest pivoted to state that both the president and the attorney general believe that investigations of this matter should be without political interference and would not give a statement as to whether they thought this was a stupid move. He directed all questions about the meeting and related engagements to the office of the attorney general. Well, I guess we can all breathe a sigh of relief that the Obama administration believes in the rule of law, the apolitical nature of FBI investigations, and thinks an erosion of those principles is very, very bad (sarc.). So, could we take the fact that Earnest deployed countermeasures regarding how the White House feels about this meeting can be pretty much summed up in Axlrod’s tweet, but they just don’t want to say it publicly?

Q Does the White House have a reaction to Attorney General Lynch meeting with Bill Clinton at a time when DOJ is overseeing the probe into Secretary Clinton's email usage?

MR. EARNEST: Well, Jeff, I've obviously seen the reports about this, and the reports are driven by the answer that Attorney General Lynch herself gave to this question. Look, I think the bottom line is simply that both the President and the Attorney General understand how important it is for the Department of Justice to conduct investigations that are free of political interference. And that's been a bedrock principle of our criminal justice system in this country since our founding. The rule of law is paramount. And every American citizen should be held accountable to that rule of regardless of their political affiliation, regardless of who supports them politically, regardless of what their poll numbers say. And that is a principle the President believes is one that's worth protecting.

The reason that that's so important is it prevents erosion in the public confidence in our justice system. And this is a principle that Attorney General Lynch has dedicated her three decades in law enforcement to. She served as the U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of New York. She has her own firsthand experience in conducting public corruption cases. She did that -- she protected the public trust by prosecuting individuals in both parties where there was evidence to indicate that they may have violated the public trust. This was what earned her strong bipartisan support when she was nominated for the job. And she has continued that work in the Attorney General's office in a variety of ways, including a recent announcement about Medicaid fraud, and obviously her efforts to root out corruption in one of the most influential international athletic organizations in the world.

So she certainly understands that investigations should be conducted free of political interference and consistent with the facts. Investigators should be guided by the facts and by evidence. And that's ultimately what should support their conclusions.

And she’s made clear that that's the expectation that she has for the way that this investigation should be conducted. The President has made clear that that certainly is consistent with his expectation about how this should be handled. And so I also think that's consistent with the American public’s expectation about how this should be handled.

Q But given that, Josh, is the White House concerned about even just the appearance of political influence because of that meeting?

MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, I’m not going to second-guess the way that this investigation should move forward or should be handled. Again --

Q I’m not asking about the investigation. I’m asking about the meeting between Attorney General Lynch and Bill Clinton.

MR. EARNEST: Yes, well, I wasn’t there for the meeting, but the Attorney General was. She was asked a direct question about it, and she answered it. So again, I think that's consistent with everybody’s expectations.

Q My question is about the appearance that that meeting created.

MR. EARNEST: Well, I guess what I’m suggesting is that she was asked about it directly, and she answered the question directly about what exactly transpired. And so she’s spoken to this. I don't have any insight into that meeting. I also don't have any insight into the investigation.

But the President’s view is that this is an investigation that should be conducted free of any sort of political interference. And the Attorney General has indicated that that's exactly her expectation, as well.

Michelle.

Q Thanks, Josh. Are you saying that the White House feels that it’s fine that she had this meeting with Clinton? There’s no problem with it?

MR. EARNEST: I think what I’m saying is that the President believes that this principle of protecting any investigation from any sort of political interference is critically important. The rule of law is paramount. And people should be judged by the rule of law without regard to their partisan affiliation or their political standing. And that is a principle that's worth protecting. It’s a principle that both the President and the Attorney General are committed to.

Q So you said that she answered questions about it. I don't know -- if there’s any question of impropriety, who would stop at just asking the person who was involved in that, or if a mistake was made? So does the President have a question for her about this meeting?

MR. EARNEST: Well, I haven’t spoken to the President about this particular matter. But again, the President’s expectation is that this is an investigation that will be guided by the facts, not by politics.

And we've been gratified to see other senior officials at the Department of Justice, including the Attorney General and the FBI Director, indicate that that's a priority for them, as well.

Q You just talked about how important it is for people to see things being handled properly so that there is no erosion in public confidence. But Democrats today -- some -- are also saying that just the optics of this, that they should have known better. You're talking about that potential of erosion in confidence. Doesn't this have the potential to do that, as well?

MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, I think -- again, I think what should give people confidence is the 30-year career that Attorney General Lynch has in keeping the public’s trust, and making sure that she continues to be an effective advocate for the rule of law and for the fair administration of justice. She’s done that throughout her career. She’s done that in the Office of the Attorney General. And again, when it comes to appearances, she was asked very directly about the meeting. And she answered the question very directly. So for what impact that may have on the investigation, I’m just not going to comment on that because I don't want to be in a position of second-guessing an investigation that, quite frankly, I haven’t been briefed on.

Q But we're not talking about the investigation itself. We're talking about --

MR. EARNEST: I think that's the question that you're raising, is what potential impact does this optic have on the investigation. And again, I’m just --

Q Well, you raised --

MR. EARNEST: I’m not going to talk about it.

Q You raise the appearance which could lead to an erosion of public confidence in that process. That doesn't mean the process itself is tainted. But you spoke to the erosion of public confidence. So if you seem satisfied with what the Attorney General said about the meeting, why will you not say that you're okay that that meeting happened, that you don't have a problem with that?

MR. EARNEST: Well, what I’m saying is simply -- when I was talking about the erosion of the public trust, what I said is public trust would be eroded if it were -- if people were not making an effort to make clear that these investigations should not be influenced by politics.

And the Attorney General, the Director of the FBI, other senior officials at the Department of Justice and the President of the United States have all indicated that the rule of law is paramount, that people should be subject to the rule of law without regard to their political standing or their political party or their poll numbers. That is a principle that we should all subscribe to. And the President, and the Attorney General, and the Director of the FBI all do.

Q But just to be clear, you're not saying then that the President and the White House is fine with this meeting having happened the way it did.

MR. EARNEST: Again, I did not attend the meeting. But Attorney General Lynch did, and she’s spoken directly to how the meeting came about and what was discussed.

Q We are talking optics here, though, not the content of that meeting. Just the optics themselves. I hate that word, but that's what everybody is talking about.

MR. EARNEST: Yes.

Q So the appearance, you're okay with the fact that this meeting has raised that question? Are you concerned that that appearance has --

MR. EARNEST: I’ll let the Attorney General speak to her meetings. But what is paramount in the mind of the President is a commitment to the rule of law and a commitment to ensuring that justice is administered without regard to political affiliation or political standing.

Yes, maybe they did talk about grandchildren, maybe not. I find it hard to believe that Bill and Lynch mostly just discussed grandchildren, given that one’s spouse is facing a possible indictment for mishandling classified information on her email server. Moreover, since the State Department IG report and the most recent email unearthed concerning the technical problems with Clinton’s server were released, it just shows (once again) that the woman is a liar. It’s politics all the time with these two, and they certainly have a history of playing by their own rules; the old 1990s criticisms have certainly not gone away. Lynch’s decision was probably the only one left afforded to her to curb the fallout. Lynch added that she would follow the recommendations of the FBI following the conclusion of their investigation. Well, I guess we can all sleep at night, right?

On second thought, maybe not: