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Friday 23 March 2018

Attorney general regrets meeting with Bill Clinton

Former US president Bill Clinton spoke with Loretta Lynch during an impromptu meeting (AP)
Former US president Bill Clinton spoke with Loretta Lynch during an impromptu meeting (AP)

US attorney general Loretta Lynch has acknowledged that her meeting with Bill Clinton while his wife is under federal investigation "cast a shadow" on the public's perception of a case playing heavily into the presidential campaign.

"I certainly wouldn't do it again," Lynch said of the meeting, which created immediate bipartisan angst and underscored the political consequences of the FBI-led probe into the former secretary of state's email.

Lynch hastened to add that she would follow the recommendations of career prosecutors on whether to file criminal charges in the case, removing herself from that decision.

Her statements were aimed at tamping down concerns that the investigation could be politically tainted or that Lynch, an Obama administration appointee, might overrule the findings of agents and prosecutors who have spent months looking into the possible mishandling of classified information on the private email server Clinton used as secretary of state.

Lynch said she understood that her private meeting with Clinton aboard her plane in Phoenix, Arizona, might be seen as compromising the neutrality of the investigation, even though she said the probe of Hillary Clinton was not discussed.

Asked what she was thinking in permitting the meeting to occur, she said: "I completely get that question, and I think it is the question of the day."

The outcome of the investigation is bound to influence the presidential campaign, whether to Clinton's benefit if she emerges unscathed or Republican rival Donald Trump in the event that she or anyone close to her winds up prosecuted.

Bill Clinton's talk with the attorney general also could reinforce suspicions that the Clintons play by different rules than anyone else and aggravate questions of trust that already hang over Hillary Clinton in the minds of some voters.

Trump tweeted that "Bill's meeting was probably initiated and demanded by Hillary," without offering evidence of that. "Does anybody really believe that meeting was just a coincidence?" he asked. The Clinton campaign declined to comment on Lynch's remarks.

Lynch said at a conference in Colorado that she had decided even before the meeting with Bill Clinton to heed the recommendations of a team of federal agents and career prosecutors who have been working on the case.

But she acknowledged that the talk with Clinton had become a "painful" episode that reinforced the need for her to cede ultimate decision-making authority to others.

The encounter was especially sensitive given the repeated efforts by Lynch and FBI director James Comey to stress that their investigation is being done independently and without regard for politics.

"This case will be resolved by the team that's been working on it from the beginning," she said, vowing to accept the findings and recommendations of a team of federal agents and career prosecutors.

Bill Clinton, like his wife's campaign, declined through spokesmen to comment on Lynch's remarks.

Lynch told reporters earlier this week that the meeting was unplanned and happened while the former president was waiting to depart on another plane. She said he walked over and boarded the attorney general's plane after she landed there.

She said Clinton talked about his grandchildren and told her he had been playing golf in Arizona. She said they discussed former attorney general Janet Reno, whom they both know.

"We basically said hello, and I congratulated him on his grandchildren as people tend to do," she said Friday.

"It really was a social meeting," she added. "He spoke to me, he spoke to my husband."


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