Bill Clinton & Loretta Lynch meeting: 'Incredibly bad judgment'

Story highlights

  • The Arizona tarmac meeting between former President Clinton and U.S. attorney general raises questions, writes Paul Callan
  • Attorney General Loretta Lynch is final authority on whether email probe will result in criminal charges, he notes

Paul Callan is a CNN legal analyst and a former media law professor. He is a former New York City homicide prosecutor and criminal defense attorney who serves as "of counsel" to Edelman & Edelman, PC and is senior trial counsel at CallanLegal, where he focuses on civil rights and wrongful conviction litigation. Follow him on Twitter: @paulcallan The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)The Arizona tarmac meeting between former President Bill Clinton and U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch will certainly raise the eyebrows of more than a few law enforcement professionals and voters throughout the United States.

The reason: the AG is the Cabinet officer who is nominally in charge of the FBI's "email server" investigation which in part focuses upon the conduct of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
    Since the email server was located in the Clinton's private residence in Chappaqua, N.Y., most members of the public would reasonably assume that Mr. Clinton himself would have more than a passing knowledge regarding the use and maintenance of the server. He would also be intensely interested in keeping his candidate wife clear of any allegations of criminal wrong during her presidential campaign.
    Under the circumstances, the tarmac soiree between Clinton and Lynch demonstrates incredibly bad judgment on the part of two seasoned legal and political professionals.
    Both should have instantly realized that their private meeting might create public suspicion that something improper must have occurred. After all Donald Trump has been tossing corruption accusations at Hillary Clinton with the frequency of firings on "The Apprentice."
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    If the conversation, which took place on a private plane parked at the Phoenix Airport, was, as has been reported, merely a polite exchange of pleasantries and family news, no illegality occurred. Lawyers, however, are not bound by merely the black letter of the law but also by the lawyer's "Code of Professional Responsibility" which in theory holds them to a higher ethical standard.
    The lawyer's ethical code historically prohibited them from engaging in activities that create an "appearance of impropriety" and undermine public confidence in the justice system. The tarmac meeting here certainly feels improper. That code binds Lynch but possibly not the former president, whose law license was suspended by Arkansas for five years after the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
    The attorney general should have had better sense than to permit the meeting with the always charming and persuasive former president. It will erode public confidence in the Justice Department she leads.
    As attorney general, Lynch is in charge of federal prosecutors, who must decide if there is sufficient evidence to submit charges to a federal grand jury in the Clinton email case or whether a termination of the probe without charges is warranted.
    Undoubtedly, it is difficult for even the powerful attorney general of the United States to throw a former president off her plane. In the future she had better summon the strength and courage to do so as the reputations of the thousands of honest Justice Department employees depend on her understanding that even when a former president seeks refuge from the heat of an Arizona tarmac in summer, appearances matter.