WASHINGTON — Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch disputed on Thursday former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony that she wanted to downplay the announcement of Hillary Clinton’s email probe.
Comey told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing that when he went to Lynch to authorize making public the existence of an FBI investigation of Clinton’s use of a private email server, Lynch instructed him to use the word “matter” instead of “investigation.”
Lynch used the word matter, a person familiar with the conversation told the Chicago Sun-Times, because she was only trying to be consistent with language she had been using in describing the politically charged situation.
Comey told the senators that using the word matter looked to him like she was doing the Clinton campaign bidding.
Comey has said he was wary of Lynch because of a tarmac meeting with Bill Clinton. The former president and Lynch said they never talked about the campaign when they had a chance crossing of paths at an airport.
A person familiar with the conversation between Lynch and Comey detailed a different version of that meeting, telling the Sun-Times, “Former Director Comey requested a meeting in September of 2015 in which he asked the AG and other Department officials for guidance on how to discuss the investigation at his upcoming testimony before Congress.
“The primary question before the group was not how to refer to the investigation, but whether to confirm its existence at all. The discussion focused on how to best ensure he could testify fully and openly while continuing to follow DOJ and FBI policy. The Justice Department and the FBI have a longstanding policy of declining to confirm ongoing criminal investigations. The AG’s view was that they should continue to abide by that policy.
“The AG told Director Comey that she had used the term ‘matter’ in response to press inquiries, in order to ensure that she neither confirmed nor denied the investigation, in accordance with longstanding Justice Department and FBI policy. She suggested that she and the director should be consistent in their language, and at the end of the meeting, she asked if everyone was comfortable with using the term ‘matter.’ No one, including the Director, contested that view.”
At the hearing, Comey said Lynch’s wanting to use the word “matter” instead of “investigation” was of concern “because we were at the point where we refused to confirm the existence as we typically do of an investigation for months. And was getting to a place where that looked silly because the campaigns we’re talking about interacting with the FBI in the course of our work.”
“The Clinton campaign at the time was using all kinds of euphemisms, security matters, things like that for what was going on. We were getting to a place where the attorney general and I were both going to testify and talk publicly about it I wanted to know was she going to authorize us to confirm we have an investigation.
“She said yes, don’t call it that, call it a matter. I said why would I do that? She said, just call it a matter. You look back in hindsight, if I looked back and said this isn’t worth dying on so I just said the press is going to completely ignore it. That’s what happened when I said we opened a matter. They all reported the FBI has an investigation open. So that concerned me because that language tracked the way the campaign was talking about the FBI’s work and that’s concerning.
“… I don’t know whether it was intentional or not but it gave the impression that the attorney general was looking to align the way we talked about our work with the way it was describing that. It was inaccurate. We had an investigation open for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, we had an investigation open at the time. That gave me a queasy feeling.”