Former President Bill Clinton and current U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch may well have exchanged only pleasantries and photos of grandchildren during an impromptu meeting this week at the Phoenix airport. But it doesn’t matter.
Clinton’s decision to board Lynch’s parked plane — as Lynch’s agency investigates Hillary Clinton’s private e-mail use — was inappropriate and raised legitimate questions about whether the powerful couple is trying to influence the outcome. It also was mindblowingly dense or arrogant, or both, on Bill Clinton’s part.
How could someone who has been in the public eye for decades, not to mention Republican cross hairs, expect to pass this off as a mere social call? The equation here is simple: A former two-term president visiting the head of the agency investigating his wife, who just happens to be the Democratic presidential front-runner, equals at a minimum the appearance of impropriety.
Lynch shares ownership of this misadventure. Regardless of how awkward it might have been, she should have told Clinton to leave the plane. Although Lynch didn’t admit to making a mistake during a Friday speaking engagement, she did say “I certainly wouldn’t do it again,” and acknowledged that the meeting “cast a shadow” over her agency’s investigation.
Lynch took a rapid step to attempt to shore up public confidence in her agency, saying Friday that she “would accept whatever recommendations that career prosecutors and the FBI director make about whether to bring charges in the case,’’ according to the New York Times. Normally, the attorney general has some discretion about how best to move forward.
Lynch said the move to defer to career staff was under consideration long before the Phoenix visit, due to the high-wire politics involved. Lynch was appointed by President Obama, who has endorsed Hillary Clinton. Lynch was appointed to an earlier federal post by Bill Clinton. Career staff at the Department of Justice presumably would be more insulated from political pressure.
Lynch, however, stopped short of recusing herself. That’s a mistake. The meeting with Bill Clinton raised too many concerns about potential political pressure for her to remain engaged in the process. The GOP call for an outside special counsel also merits debate. Still, Republican concerns about candidate integrity ring more than a little hollow given that Donald Trump is headed for the top of the party’s presidential ticket. Trump is entangled in fraud allegations over his real estate seminars, has failed to turn over his tax records and faces serious questions about how truthful he has been about charitable giving.
Voters will make their decision Nov. 8. The questions raised by the Bill Clinton-Lynch imbroglio, as well as the hits-just-keep-on-coming Trump campaign, don’t inspire confidence. That’s the opposite of what the nation needs when polls show Americans’ trust in government is at or near historic lows.