WASHINGTON — Senate Judiciary Committee leaders said Friday they are seeking information about former attorney general Loretta Lynch’s alleged efforts to stifle the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while Clinton was secretary of State.
The bipartisan inquiry comes as the panel is looking into the circumstances surrounding President Trump’s firing of former FBI director James Comey. Comey was in charge of the FBI’s investigation of the Clinton email probe and of a separate probe of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.
Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the panel’s senior Democrat, sent a letter to Lynch this week requesting information. They were joined by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., chairman of the Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee, and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, the subcommittee’s senior Democrat.
The committee, in a statement released Friday by Grassley and Graham, cited an April story by The New York Times reporting that the FBI came into possession of a batch of hacked documents, including one authored by a “Democratic operative who expressed confidence that Ms. Lynch would keep the Clinton investigation from going too far.” After reading that story, Grassley requested a copy of the document from the Justice Department, which he said never responded.
A month later, The Washington Post reported that the email had been sent by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., in her former role as the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, to Leonard Benardo of the Open Society Foundation, an international grantmaking network founded by Democratic mega-donor and businessman George Soros. That email, according to the Post, indicated that Lynch had privately assured Clinton campaign staffer Amanda Renteria that the FBI’s investigation wouldn’t “go too far.”
“Comey was reportedly concerned that the communication would raise doubts about the investigation’s independence and began discussing plans to announce the end of the Clinton email investigation rather than simply referring it to the Department (of Justice) for a prosecutorial decision,” the committee’s statement said. “Comey’s extraordinary action to announce the end of the investigation was a break from Justice Department protocol, and was later cited as justification (by the White House) for his removal from the FBI.”
Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee earlier this month that he had a troubling exchange with then-attorney general Lynch about the Clinton email investigation. He said Lynch told him: “Don’t call it that (an investigation). Call it a matter. Just call it a matter.’’
He said the direction gave the “impression’’ that the government was aligning its work with the Clinton campaign.
“It gave me a queasy feeling,’’ Comey testified.
Comey was widely criticized by Republicans last year for publicly announcing in July that, although Clinton was “extremely careless” in how she handled classified information, there was no evidence that she intended to break the law and he would not seek any charges against her.
The former FBI director angered Democrats a few months later when he announced in October the he had reopened the Clinton email investigation because some of Clinton’s emails were found on computers seized in an unrelated investigation of former congressman Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., who was married to Clinton aide Huma Abedin. Clinton’s supporters believe that announcement severely damaged Clinton’s presidential campaign just weeks before the November election. Comey informed Congress just days before the election that the emails contained no new information.
In addition to seeking information from Lynch, the Judiciary Committee leaders wrote letters to Benardo, Renteria and Gail Scovell, the general counsel for the Open Society Foundation, seeking details about the reported emails and copies of any related documents. It also asks them whether FBI officials contacted them to investigate the alleged communications.
The committee, which is also probing possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials during the 2016 election, noted that its latest inquiry comes “amidst numerous allegations of political inference in controversial and high-profile investigations spanning the current and previous administrations.”
Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Trump asked him to back off the FBI’s investigation of Michael Flynn, the president’s former national security adviser.
“The Senate Judiciary Committee has jurisdiction over the FBI and Justice Department and is obliged to oversee any potential misconduct or inappropriate political influence at these agencies,” the committee statement said.
Contributing: Kevin Johnson