WASHINGTON (AP) — Attorney General Loretta Lynch defended her decision to close the Hillary Clinton email investigation without criminal charges, insisting Tuesday that she had no reason to reject the unanimous recommendation of FBI investigators.
“The matter was handled like any other matter,” Lynch told the House Judiciary Committee.
The panel’s chairman, GOP Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, strenuously criticized Lynch over the investigation’s outcome, charging that it “does not seem to be a responsible way to uphold your constitutionally sworn oath.”
Goodlatte also questioned why Lynch didn’t recuse herself after a recent meeting with former President Bill Clinton on her airplane. And he tried to draw her out on whether Clinton lied about her handling of classified email. Goodlatte and other House Republicans on Monday formally asked the Justice Department to investigate whether Clinton lied to Congress.
Lynch refused to be drawn into debating Clinton’s conduct or the facts of the case, repeatedly referring Goodlatte to testimony given by FBI Director James Comey last week.
She praised the FBI team that investigated Clinton and recommended against charges. “I accepted that recommendation. I saw no reason not to accept it,” Lynch said.
Lynch’s testimony Tuesday came amid a roiling national debate over police violence and as House Republicans seek further investigations of Clinton months before the November election.
“This has now become an issue for Congress in that it appears Secretary Clinton testified falsely when appearing under oath before the Select Committee on Benghazi,” Goodlatte told Lynch, referring to Clinton’s assertions that she did not send emails marked classified at the time from her private server.
“Frankly, the FBI’s conclusion leaves many more questions than answers.”
Democrats criticized Republicans for their focus on Clinton’s emails instead of trying to pass legislation on guns or deal with issues of policing.
“Today apparently Secretary Hillary Clinton’s email takes precedence over gun violence and civil rights,” said Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the panel’s top Democrat. “If any of my colleagues are not yet convinced it is because they don’t want to be convinced.”
Lynch touched on law enforcement and policing issues including last week’s sniper shooting of five police officers in Dallas by a suspect who said he wanted to kill white officers. That followed police killings of Philando Castile, who was fatally shot near St. Paul, Minnesota, and Alton Sterling, who was shot in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
“As we gather here this morning, that sense of safety has been shaken by the series of devastating events that rocked our nation last week,” Lynch said in her prepared opening statement.
Lynch, who was sworn in as attorney general on the same day as racially tinged riots occurred in Baltimore, has repeatedly said that one of her top priorities in office is to improve relationships between police and the communities they serve.
The hearing marked Lynch’s first appearance before Congress since the Justice Department closed without charges the federal investigation into Clinton’s private email server.
The Clinton email investigation was spawned by the House probe into the attacks in Benghazi, Libya of 2012 that killed four Americans while Clinton was serving as secretary of State.
Lynch caused a stir with the meeting with Bill Clinton last month aboard her plane in Phoenix. She has said it was an unscheduled encounter and the two did not discuss the Hillary Clinton email investigation, but Lynch also previously expressed regret and acknowledged the meeting had “cast a shadow” on the public perception of the Justice Department’s independence. Lynch then said that she would accept whatever recommendation the FBI and her prosecutors presented on Clinton.
Follow Eric Tucker on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/etuckerAP