By Eric Felten, RealClearInvestigations
What happened when Bill Clinton met then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch on the west side of Phoenix Sky Harbor airport between 7 and 8 PM on June 27, 2016? Just days before Hillary Rodham Clinton was to be interviewed by the FBI about her mishandling of classified emails, the former president intercepted the AG on her plane. Was it just a “casual” and “unscheduled” encounter, as the head spokesperson for the Department of Justice maintained? Or was the former president stalking Lynch to urge her to go easy on his wife?
We have a new window on what may have gone on inside Lynch’s FBI jet after it landed — the story as told by the former attorney general to lawmakers and staff of the House Judiciary Committee and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Her account could easily be seen as self-serving, but it was given under penalty of perjury.
The day after the tarmac meeting, Lynch held a press conference to talk about local police policies. Christopher Sign, the morning anchor for the ABC affiliate in Phoenix, asked her what she had been talking with Bill Clinton about on her jet the evening before. She said it was just pleasantries: “Our conversation was a great deal about his grandchildren,” she said to reporters. They also talked about their travels, golf, former Attorney General Janet Reno and West Virginia. “It was primarily social,” Lynch said, assuring everyone “there was no discussion of any matter pending for the [Justice] department or any matter pending for any other body.”
Lynch told much the same story to lawmakers behind closed doors. It also tracked closely with the way she described the meeting to Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz. But there is a significant difference between the description of the meeting Lynch shared with the reporters and the version Lynch presented on Capitol Hill. She told the press their meeting had been a pleasant happenstance; by contrast, the meeting she described to lawmakers was a forced and awkward encounter in which Bill Clinton was strangely eager to meet with her, so eager that he made it up the stairs and onto her plane without being invited. And once aboard, he simply could not be persuaded to leave, chatting and chatting and chatting, strangely oblivious to Lynch’s repeated hints he had overstayed his welcome.
According to the way the airport tarmac meeting is described by those trying to downplay the get-together, Lynch and Clinton somehow crossed paths coming to and from Phoenix on their private planes. Typical was a “person familiar with the meeting” who tried to explain it to the press like this: “The former president, who was departing the airport on a private jet, noticed Lynch’s plane had arrived and decided to go over and say hello.” The suggestion was that it was a chance meeting. It was anything but.
Loretta Lynch described to the joint House committees landing on a hot evening in Phoenix, where the next day she would be visiting the local police department. She explained there was a standard protocol for getting everyone off the plane: They would always deplane in a series, “security detail first, my staff [next], and then I would leave and go immediately to the car.” Security exited, then the staff, all as per normal. But before Lynch and her husband, Stephen Hargrove, who was travelling with her, could get out of the plane there was an interruption of the standard procedure.
“As we walked to the door, the head of my security detail came to me and said: ‘Ma’am, I’ve been informed … that former President
“There had been a new grandchild,” Lynch recalled of the Clintons. “I said: Congratusness about grandkids, travel plans, coal mining, golf, and Brexit.
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