WASHINGTON — Former attorney general Loretta Lynch said President Trump’s repeated attacks on the credibility of the Justice Department and FBI have been “painful” to bear.
In an interview with NBC News, Lynch said the criticisms of of both institutions and their handling of sensitive investigations, including the inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, is “troubling when people question the motivations of dedicated, committed professionals.”
“I look at the department as a place that I was proud to lead,” said Lynch in her first interview since leaving office with the Obama administration. “So, watching the attacks on it is painful at times.”
Lynch’s comments come as Justice’s inspector general is poised to disclose a critical report on how she, former FBI Director James Comey and others handled the Clinton inquiry, including the then-attorney general’s controversial meeting with former President Clinton aboard an aircraft just before the email investigation concluded with the recommendation that the Democratic nominee not be charged.
Comey, who was abruptly dismissed by Trump last year in part for his handling of the Clinton inquiry and is set to release a book next week about his controversial tenure, has said that Lynch’s meeting in the midst of the investigation made him question the Justice Department credibility to pass judgement on whether Clinton should be prosecuted.
The then-FBI director, without consulting Justice, then took the unprecedented step of publicly recommending that Clinton not be charged.
In the NBC interview, Lynch reiterated previous public comments on the June 2016 meeting with former President Clinton while their respective planes were parked on the tarmac in Phoenix, saying that the two “talked about innocuous things.”
She acknowledged, however, that the meeting “raised concerns in people’s minds about whether or not there was going to be any impact on the email investigation.”
Asked about the handling of the Clinton case, Comey further questioned Lynch’s credibility when he told the Senate Intelligence Committee in June that he got “a queasy feeling” when Lynch allegedly told him to refer publicly to the Clinton investigation as “a matter,” rather than an investigation.
Comey said Lynch’s direction gave the “impression’’ that the government was aligning its work with the Clinton campaign.
Lynch said she recalled talking with Comey about the Clinton inquiry during a meeting in the fall of 2015, but the FBI director raised no questions then.
“Well…I can tell you that, you know, it was a meeting like any other that we had where we talked about the issues,” Lynch said. “And we had a full and open discussion about it… And concerns were not raised.”
Of Trump’s decision to fire Comey last year, Lynch said she was “surprised as any American” and that she awaits the findings of the ongoing inquiry into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. As part of that wide-ranging probe, Justice special counsel Robert Mueller is examining whether Trump sought to obstruct the investigation by firing Comey.
Comey’s dismissal ultimately led to the appointment of Mueller, who served as FBI director for 12 years prior to Comey’s appointment.