‘That gave me a queasy feeling’: Lynch told Comey not to call Clinton email probe an ‘investigation,’ he says

Michael Walsh
Reporter

Former FBI Director James Comey said Thursday that former Attorney General Loretta Lynch had seemingly pushed him to downplay an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server.

Comey told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that Lynch, who served under then-President Barack Obama, had ordered him to use particular wording — “a matter” — while discussing the probe.

“Probably the only other consideration that I guess I can talk about in an open setting is that at one point, the attorney general had directed me not to call it an investigation, but instead to call it a matter, which confused me and concerned me,” he said. “But that was one of the bricks in the load that led me to conclude, ‘I have to step away from the department if we’re to close this case credibly.’”

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Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, the chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, asked Comey if Lynch’s controversial meeting with Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton, on a private airplane influenced the way he handled the email scandal.

Comey noted that this meeting did in fact raise questions about the impartiality of the FBI and the Justice Department in the minds of many Americans.

Former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and former FBI Director James Comey. (Photos: Nancy Wiechec/Reuters, Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

“That was the thing that capped it for me, that I had to do something separately to protect the credibility of the investigation, which meant both the FBI and the Justice Department.”

Though the bulk of his testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence focused on President Trump’s decision to suddenly fire him and the Kremlin’s alleged influence, conservatives seized on the Lynch comments, interpreting them as Lynch’s attempt to interfere with the Clinton probe and “downplay” its importance. Clinton exclusively used a private email server for her official State Department business, raising the question of whether classified material was mishandled.


When Comey announced that neither Clinton nor her aides would face charges, he nevertheless publicly called her setup extremely careless with classified information.

Whether intentional or not, Comey said, Lynch’s command “gave the impression the attorney general was looking to align the way we talked about our work with the way a political campaign was describing the same activity.”

He added that even though he obliged and used the word “matter,” it would be entirely inaccurate to refer to their examination of Clinton’s email use as any other than what it was: an investigation.

“We had a criminal investigation open at the time, so that gave me a queasy feeling.”

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