By using fired FBI Director James Comey to attack the new Republican administration, Democrats have opened up a legal can of worms for the Obama administration.
Under sworn questioning, Comey has veered off the topic of President Trump and Russia and revealed several damning incidents in which his predecessor’s administration politically interfered in the Hillary Clinton email investigation. And now the Senate will investigate Team Obama for obstruction of justice.
Specifically, the Senate Judiciary Committee announced last week it will hold hearings to “examine then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s involvement in the Clinton email server investigation.”
The findings of the powerful panel, which has oversight of the Justice Department and FBI, could lead to a separate criminal investigation and the naming of another special counsel — exactly what Trump needs to distract attention from his growing legal woes.
What Lynch did reeks of obstruction. According to Comey, his ex-boss:
- Ordered him to mislead the public about the criminal investigation of Clinton by calling it a “matter” rather than an investigation. (He complied with her wish, even though it made him feel “queasy.”)
- Refused to recuse herself from the case after Comey confronted her about a secret June 2016 meeting she had with former President Bill Clinton — five days before his wife was scheduled to be interviewed by the FBI. (Hillary was cleared three days later.)
There are also concerns, raised by a New York Times report, that Lynch privately assured the Clinton campaign she would keep FBI agents in check and wouldn’t let their investigation “go too far,” according to a message the FBI intercepted involving then-Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
Worried his boss had a “conflict of interest” overseeing the Clinton investigation, Comey testified he “considered whether I should call for the appointment of a special counsel” to take over the case. That would’ve been the right move. Curiously, Comey instead shut down the probe and let Clinton off the hook — three weeks before her presidential nomination.
How compliant was Comey? Here’s how he responded to Lynch’s demand he “align” his rhetoric with the Clinton camp: “I just said, OK.” What other Lynch meddling did he go along with during the yearlong Hillary probe, which was marred by suspiciously generous immunity deals, favorable ground rules, a near-absence of grand jury subpoenas and a rushed closure ahead of the DNC convention?
These are questions the Senate judiciary panel, chaired by GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley, might like to ask Comey, along with: Who else was in the room during your meetings with Lynch, and did you take notes?
Any notes could be subpoenaed, along with the Wasserman Schultz document, which, contrary to recent media reports, isn’t fake. (Comey testified such reports are “nonsense.”) So might the NSA recording of Lynch’s chat with Clinton, which took place on board a government plane.
Congressional sources say Lynch will almost certainly be called to answer Comey’s allegations under oath. What did she and Bill Clinton discuss? Did the investigation come up? Why didn’t she recuse herself, despite admitting it looked bad? And did she in fact promise the Clinton campaign a whitewash?
Also on the potential witness list are Wasserman Schultz and Amanda Renteria, the senior Clinton campaign staffer with whom Wasserman Schultz claimed Lynch had been in communication.
Democrats will have a hard time dismissing the inquiry as partisan. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary panel, is on record saying Lynch’s suspicious actions are a legitimate avenue of inquiry. Those remarks provide Republicans the political cover they need to aggressively pursue Comey’s leads, and refer evidence to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution.
Because Attorney General Jeff Sessions would recuse himself from that probe, too, the case could end up in the hands of a special prosecutor, who, like Robert Mueller, would have wide-ranging authority to poke around.
That’s a nightmare scenario for Democrats, who are betting the 2018 midterms on convincing voters of Trump graft. Much to their chagrin, Comey’s testimony has given Republicans grounds to shift focus from the Russia probe back to Clinton-Obama corruption.
Witch-hunting Democrats may soon learn that turnabout is fair play.