Even if you believe that the tarmac meeting between Bill Clinton and Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch was innocent – and there is reason to believe it probably was – the former president and husband of the likely Democratic nominee made an unnecessary mess for the Justice Department, the Democratic Party and his wife. What was he thinking?
Critics of the Clintons have seized on the former president’s decision to walk from his airplane to one occupied by Lynch and her husband in Phoenix on Monday night. The explosion of criticism was both predictable and not without cause.
The FBI, a division of Lynch’s Justice Department, is investigating Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state. Opponents think – or at least dream – that she could be indicted for a crime and interpret Bill Clinton’s meeting with Lynch and her husband as an effort to influence the investigation. Indeed, they have seized on the visit as proof that a special prosecutor is needed.
Clinton’s history suggests that the visit was unrelated to the investigation, though unwise in the extreme. Clinton is a political animal – a glad-hander extraordinaire whose instincts have been known to fail him. But no one doubts his intelligence. If he wanted to try to influence the investigation of his wife, any number of back channels were available to him, with no one being the wiser. It’s beyond unlikely that his purposes had anything to do with the email investigation.
But the episode predictably raised howls in the midst of a heated presidential election and jibes with another criticism of both Clintons – this one dead on: They act as though the rules don’t apply to them.
Indeed, Hillary Clinton’s decision to use a private email server and her husband’s unwise audience with the attorney general sprout from the same over-fertilized soil. So was the Clintons’ “renting out” of the Lincoln bedroom during their time in the White House. It’s a periodic failure to consider what are the all-but-certain consequences of poorly considered actions.
It’s not difficult to believe that Hillary Clinton’s decision to use a private email server reflected a desire for control rather than any more nefarious motivation. Yet, her use of the unauthorized account was sure to be revealed and to give her opponents an avenue of attack. That avenue has led nowhere substantive at this point, but it has resulted in the FBI’s investigation, which hangs over her campaign like a bank safe swaying in the wind. It was a foolish decision.
Bill Clinton’s tarmac meeting was similarly provocative. Lynch has reported that the meeting was mainly social and the Clinton investigation wasn’t mentioned. She implied that the meeting was unplanned and occurred when the former president walked, uninvited, to her airplane.
But why? We’d like to think he wouldn’t try to influence the investigation in any way, but if he were going to, it is unlikely to the point of ludicrous that he would do it in so blatant a way.
Nevertheless, it has exploded in both their faces, as well as Hillary Clinton’s. Their political opponents are making the most of it, suggesting that the entire investigation has been compromised, and pushing Lynch to promise that she would not second guess career prosecutors if they conclude charges are warranted.
It was all so unnecessary. Had Hillary Clinton just used the State Department’s official email system, all of this would have been avoided. If Bill Clinton had not invited himself to Lynch’s plane, today’s problem would not have occurred.
Then, again, it’s the Clintons we’re talking about. There would have been something else.