- Meeting between Bill Clinton and attorney general stokes doubt
- FBI interviews former Secretary of State for 3 1/2 hours
Democrats jockeying to be Hillary Clinton’s running mate defended the integrity of an inquiry into her use of a private e-mail server while U.S. secretary of state, as the probe threatens wider fallout weeks before the political nominating conventions.
The vice presidential contenders swept Sunday morning talk shows to argue that a meeting earlier this week between Attorney General Loretta Lynch and former President Bill Clinton on an aircraft in Phoenix would not undermine the e-mail investigation.
Still, Senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio, rued the optics of the encounter. “It was unfortunate,” Brown said on ABC’s “This Week.” “I wished it hadn’t happened, but I think the FBI will do its job.”
Seeking to defuse the situation, Lynch acknowledged Friday that the meeting with Bill Clinton “cast a shadow” on the e-mail inquiry, and said she expects to accept the recommendations of prosecutors and FBI investigators on whether to bring charges after they wrap up the probe. That stopped short of some Republicans’ calls for a complete recusal and appointment of a special prosecutor appointed to carry the investigation to a conclusion.
‘Golf and Grandchildren’
Senator Cory Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey, and Representative Xavier Becerra, a Democrat from California, cast the airport rendezvous as a chance encounter, with Booker saying it “had nothing to do with the case.”
“They talked about golf and grandchildren,” Booker said on CNN’s “State of the Union,” echoing the characterization that Clinton herself gave on Saturday. “This is a professional prosecutor. She knows what she is doing.”
The episode “doesn’t mean you have to throw the investigation away,” Becerra said on “Fox News Sunday,” adding that the appointment of a special prosecutor would delay a process that has already “been going on for a while.”
The FBI is investigating whether classified material was mishandled because Clinton used a private server for personal and government communication during her four years as secretary of state. The approach, which Clinton has said was a mistake, has dogged her on the campaign trail, providing ammunition to opponents who say it undermines her credibility. Presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has cast his Democratic rival as “a world-class liar.”
Although she has led Trump in recent nationwide opinion polls, an NBC/Wall Street Journal telephone survey conducted June 19-23 found that 69 percent of respondents were concerned Clinton “has a record of being dishonest and is not trustworthy.”
It’s unclear how far advanced investigators are in their probe, though the three-and-a-half hour meeting with Clinton at FBI headquarters on Saturday raised the possibility that the inquiry could wrap up before the Democratic National Convention starts July 25 in Philadelphia. Any potential indictments from the case threaten to overshadow the celebration as Clinton formally becomes the first female presidential nominee for a major U.S. political party.
Even if the probe results in no charges, it could continue to be politically damaging for Clinton. Republicans, from Trump on down, have seized on the meeting between Clinton and Lynch as evidence the inquiry has been compromised.
Since Lynch “has not fully recused herself from this decision, I think it raises questions about political interference in this investigation,” Senator Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday.
Booker said an indictment of Clinton “is not even within the realm of possibility,” although he cited no source for his confidence. He also noted that Clinton had done Saturday’s interview with the FBI “voluntarily.”
Brown sought to contrast Clinton’s cooperation with the investigation, and the disclosure of 55,000 pages of emails, with Trump’s decision to withhold his income tax records. “She’s released more e-mails and more pages of e-mails and more records than any of her predecessors as secretary of state, even before she was actually running for president,” Brown said. “That speaks to her integrity.”
On MSNBC on Saturday afternoon, Clinton said her interview could help “the department in bringing its review to a conclusion.”
Becerra, Brown and Booker, all said to be contenders to join the Democratic ticket as Clinton’s running mate, demurred on questions about their status, as did Tom Perez, the U.S. Labor Secretary, who spoke on NBC.
Booker and Becerra praised the credentials of various other potential vice presidential picks, including Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Julian Castro, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.