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Attorney General Loretta Lynch Testifies Before Congress; Does Testimony Help or Hurt Hillary Clinton? Aired 10:30-11a ET
Aired July 12, 2016 - 10:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[10:30:12] LORETTA LYNCH, ATTORNEY GENERAL: There's no responsibility that this Department takes more seriously. We're moving aggressively against those who seek to receive training from or are inspired by foreign violent extremist groups. And we've arrested more than 90 individuals since 2013 for conduct related to foreign fighter activity and homegrown violent extremism.
And we are working closely with our counterparts abroad to pursue terrorists and investigate attacks around the world. As the recent incidents in Turkey, Bangladesh, Iraq and Saudi Arabia have reminded us, terror knows no borders. And in the face of violent extremism, we must stand with our global partners in unity, readiness and in resolve. Now, I want to close with a comment about the investigation of Secretary Clinton's use of a personal e-mail server during her time as Secretary of State.
As you are aware, last week I met with Director Comey and career prosecutors and agents who conducted that investigation. I received and accepted their unanimous recommendation that the thorough, year long investigation be closed and no charges be brought against any individuals within the scope of the investigation. And while I understand, that this investigation has generated significant public interest, as Attorney General it would be inappropriate for me to comment further on the underlying facts of the investigations or the legal basis for the teams recommendation. But I can tell you that I am extremely proud of the tremendous work of the dedicated prosecutors and agents on this matter.
Thank you for this opportunity to make this opening statement.
REP. ROBERT W. GOODLATTE, (R) VIRGINIA: Thank you General Lynch. We'll now proceed under the five minute rule with questions for the witnesses and I'll begin by recognizing myself. Before being confirmed as Attorney General in May of last year, you were first nominated by President Obama to serve as United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. You were originally appointed to the U.S. Attorney post in 1999 by former President Bill Clinton. The existence of Secretary Clinton's private e-mail server was first brought to light in March of last year, one month before your confirmation as Attorney General.
A few months after your confirmation, the Inspectors General of State and National Intelligence requested the Department of Justice investigate whether classified information was stored on her private e-mail servers. The FBI then opened an investigation to the matter. Given that she was a political appointee of your current boss and more importantly, the wife of your previous boss, why did you not see fit to recuse yourself from the investigation? Wouldn't recusal or appointment of a special prosecutor have removed any appearance of impropriety given your service during Bill Clinton's presidency?
LYNCH: Thank you for the question Mr. Chairman. As I've said on several occasions before when the referral came into the Department of Justice, it was received and referred to experienced, dedicated career agents and prosecutors who handle matters of this type everyday, with independence, with efficiency, with thoroughness and the matter was handled like any other matter. It was reviewed through the chain by those independent career agents and prosecutors and in considering the matter there was no connection. There was no need for recusal or an independent prosecutor. And I indicated before, I'm incredibly proud of the dedicated work that they did over the past year.
GOODLATTE: Let me follow up on that then. Two weeks ago, roughly a year into the FBI's investigation and a mere week before Director Comey's announcement. You met privately with your former boss, former President Bill Clinton on your plane at the Phoenix airport. Why was this meeting, particularly in light of your previous appointment by President Clinton, not grounds for recusing yourself?
LYNCH: With respect of my conversation that I had with former President Clinton in Phoenix, it was a conversation that was held on the airplane, on the tarmac. The former President indicated he wanted to say hello, and I agreed to say hello. And we had a social conversation, nothing of any relationship to the e-mail investigation was discussed nor were any specific cases or matters before the Department of Justice discussed.
GOODLATTE: We'll have some follow up questions to that later. But let me turn your attention to Director Comey's conclusions on a variety of points. Secretary Clinton stated that she never sent of received information marked as classified on her server. Director Comey stated, that was not true. Do you agree with Director Comey?
LYNCH: You know, Director Comey has chosen to provide great detail into the basis of his recommendations that were ultimately provided to me.
[10:35:03] He's chosen to provide detailed statements and I would refer you to those statements. I, as Attorney General, am not able to provide any further comment on facts or the substance of the investigation.
GOODLATTE: Well General Lynch, I think you would agree that the ultimate responsibility for a prosecutorial decision does not rest with the Federal Bureau of Investigation but with the Department of Justice, which you head. Have you not taken a close look at the work done by Director Comey, especially given the extreme national interest in this issue to make a determination yourself? Whether you and those working for you agree or disagree with Director Comey?
LYNCH: As I've indicated, I received the recommendation of the team and that team was composed of prosecutors and agents. With the unanimous recommendation as to how to resolve the investigation, and what the information that they had received.
GOODLATTE: Do you agree with the conclusion?
LYNCH: And I accepted that recommendation. I saw no reason not to accept it and again I reiterate my pride and faith in their work.
GOODLATTE: Secretary Clinton stated that she did not e-mail any classified material, and Director Comey stated there was classified material e-mailed. Do you agree with Director Comey's conclusion about that?
LYNCH: Again, I would have to refer you to Director Comey's statements for the basis for his recommendation.
GOODLATTE: Director Comey stated there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information. Do you agree with Director Comey's statement?
LYNCH: Again, I would refer you to Director Comey for any further explanation as to the basis for his recommendations. The recommendation that I received from the team, including Director Comey was that the investigation be - -
GOODLATTE: Director Comey made a recommendation, but he made a recommendation to the Department of Justice, which you head. And you would have to come to the final conclusion on whether or not to act. I would presume that before you acted, you would look at his conclusions and determine whether you agreed with them or not.
LYNCH: As I've indicated, I received a briefing from the team, which included, not just the prosecutors, but the agents and Director Comey, their unanimous recommendation was that the matter be resolved in the way in which we've announced. And I accepted that recommendation.
GOODLATTE: Let me ask you one final question. That does not regard the specific facts with regard to Secretary Clinton, but Director Comey said that there was not clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information. My question for you is, is intent to violate the law a requirement under 18 USC Section 793F?
LYNCH: Well, Congressman, I think the statutes that were considered here speak for themselves, to answer further would require a discussion of the facts and analysis of this matter. Which as I've indicated, I'm not in the position to provide at this time. Again, I refer you to Director Comey's discussion for that. As I've indicated, the team reviewed this matter and it was a unanimous team decision.
GOODLATTE: And you made a decision following their recommendation to you, that you were not going to prosecute and the matter was closed, is that correct?
LYNCH: I made the decision, some time ago, that I would accept the recommendation of that team, and was awaiting that recommendation. When I received it, there was no basis not to accept it and again I reiterate my pride and faith in them.
GOODLATTE: Well thank you. I appreciate your faith in them. The concern here is regard to your sworn oath to uphold the United States Constitution and the laws there under, including 18 USC Section 793F and 18 USC Section 924 and to conclude that no prosecution would take place without examining and drawing conclusions regarding the questions that I've just asked, does not seem to be a responsible way to uphold your constitutionally sworn oath.
At this time, I recognize the Ranking Member of the Committee the gentleman from Michigan, Mr. Conyers, for his questions.
REP. JOHN CONYERS JR., (D) MICHIGAN: Thank you.
Thank you for being here again, Attorney General. And thank you very much for your frank and candid discussion with us that is now taking place.
I'm looking for answers, and views of some events that I'm going to string together and ask you to discuss as far as you can, and in an appropriate manner. Baton Rouge, Louisiana police shot and killed Alton Sterling, video shows that he was shot while being pinned to the ground by two officers. Outside of Minneapolis, police shot and killed Philando Castile, at what should have been a routine traffic stop.
[10:40:04] He was armed but reports suggest that he repeatedly told police that he had a valid permit for the weapon. In Dallas, a gunman killed five police officers and wounded seven others in what appeared to be a well planned attack.
This terrible act in the middle of an otherwise peaceful protest in a city that has become a model for community engaged policing. And so I think you're qualified to advise us here as both the chief law enforcement officer in the United States and the first African- American woman to hold that post.
How can we make sense of these events during these trying times, ma'am?
LYNCH: Thank you, Congressman, for the opportunity to speak on these issues. I believe that you have truly outlined the issue of the day facing our nation. And it is my hope that as we all look at these tragic incidents that we will take the opportunity to draw closer to each other, to have the difficult conversations about race and policing in this country involving all sides, involving all issues and all points of view.
I have spent the last year as Attorney General touring this great country, meeting specifically on the issue of police and community relations. And I have sought out jurisdictions that have had extremely troubled relationships, but have in fact made the conscious decision to pull themselves back from that brink and develop a positive relationship, between the community and law enforcement.
It can be done. I have seen it done. You have cited Dallas as one example of a police department that through its community policing efforts has crafted a strong bond with its community. So that when there is tension, there is an outlet, there is a way for discussion. I believe, Congressman, that the key to many of the problems that we face is communication. Communication and truly listening to one another, listening to individuals who feel, for whatever reason, separated and at a distance from the goals of this great country.
Individuals who feel that they do not have an opportunity to fully participate in this great democracy, as well as listening to our brave members of law enforcement who talk to me every day with great poignancy about why they joined this wonderful profession, their desire to protect, to serve, to put young people on the right path, to build a better country and build strong communities because they live in those communities.
All of that must be recognized as well as the pain of law enforcement who feel themselves under attack, as well. By recognizing our common humanity, our common loss and our common goals we can in fact work on this difficult problem.
CONYERS: Thank you for your response. I would like to ask you in a friendly way how we can, as a committee, what is it that we can do to address the problem? And we seek your friendly advice in that direction because we want to work together with all of the branches of government and the House Judiciary Committee is in a very unusually important position to play an important role in this.
LYNCH: Yes, thank you, Congressman. The Department of Justice is actively engaged in working with both communities and law enforcement to further these discussions. And, of course, efforts in our grant-making arena are important there.
And we welcome and appreciate the support of this committee and others in making sure the department's grant-making operations are fully funded. We also provide a great deal of support for law enforcement through training and technical assistance, for example, the bulletproof vest program and our funding for body-worn cameras for so many police departments.
Again, we thank this committee and so many members of Congress who have provided bipartisan support for those efforts and we would hope those efforts in funding in particular would continue. Those are just a few of the examples of ways in which we hope to continue to receive support.
I would also note that the issue of criminal justice reform is a larger canvas upon which this conversation is being writ. And certainly we support the efforts by so many on this committee and others throughout Congress to push that important legislation forward.
[10:45:00] We've provided assistance in terms of many of the details that have been raised in the context of that legislation. I know this committee, in particular, has spent so much time and effort on that. And we appreciate that and all of the issues that have been raised.
And that is an important way towards dealing with making our criminal justice system more effective, more efficient, and more fair. That in and of itself, will go a long way towards restoring faith and trust in the overall criminal justice system, which is also a problem often raised to my attention during my travels.
So the department looks forward to continuing to support those important efforts.
CONYERS: I'm so pleased that you would be with us today. And I hope that we can continue this communication because it's very important for all of the citizens in our nation.
And I thank the chair.
GOODLATTE: Thank you, Mr. Conyers.
The chair now recognizes the gentleman from Wisconsin, Mr. Sensenbrenner, for five minutes.
REP. JIM SENSENBRENNER, (R) WISCONSIN: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
And thank you, General Lynch, for being with us today. You are in charge of the Department Of Justice. The buck stops with you. And I am concerned that you keep on saying that you have deferred the authority that by law is yours to Director Comey.
Let me give an example. Mr. Comey has said that Secretary Clinton was extremely careless in her handling of highly classified and very sensitive information. Now, the criminal statute uses the word gross negligence.
And I can't, for the life of me, figure out what the difference between gross negligence and extremely careless is unless one really wants to parse some words. Secondly, the misdemeanor statute does not require intent. It's a strict liability statute and it relates to the removal and retention of classified information.
So it doesn't matter whether Secretary Clinton had the intent to do that or not, the fact is, is that the FBI said that she did it. Now, I think that what the Director Comey has said is that Secretary Clinton's actions essentially meet the definition for prosecution under the statute.
Why did you defer to Director Comey when the responsibility is yours?
LYNCH: Thank you, Mr. -- thank you, Congressman, for the question. Let me be clear that my decision was to accept the recommendation of the team of agents and investigators who worked on this.
And these are the career attorneys and as well as the dedicated investigators including the FBI director who worked on this matter for over a year. They've reviewed the facts. They followed the facts. They looked at the law.
They've applied the facts to that law and came up with a unanimous recommendation, a joint recommendation in effect that was provided to me.
SENSENBRENNER: Well, I have a limited amount of time. You know, the fact is, is that whether it's extremely careless or gross negligence and a strict liability statute, I think that the language of the statute is clear.
Now, I've noted that the Justice Department over the last several years has prosecuted several servicemen for doing the exact same thing that Secretary Clinton did. And in one case, actually reached a judgment of a court that prohibited that servicemen from ever having a security classification again.
Now, you'll have a problem, Madam Attorney General, that people think that there's a different standard between the servicemen and Secretary Clinton and the fact that the language is almost synonymous, if not synonymous, saying no prosecution of Secretary Clinton and prosecution and conviction of the servicemen.
You have a burden, I think, to convince to the American public that you don't have a double standard. You're not meeting the burden, how do you plan to change the argument that you make to the American public so that they can be convinced that the thing was correct and that you made the right decision rather than simply deferring to people in the FBI and prosecutors?
LYNCH: Congressman, every case stands on its own separate facts and application of those facts to the law. So you have to refer to the specific facts of the other matters that you're referring to.
With respect to the investigation into the former secretary's handling of classified information, her private e-mail system. Again, I tell you, I can tell you and this entire committee and the American people, that all of the relevant facts were considered, investigated thoroughly, and reviewed by the entire team.
[10:50:02] Which, again, is composed of career independent, investigators, as well as lawyers and their recommendation upon a full and thorough analysis was that the matter be revolved in the way in which is was recommended to me.
As I've indicated, I've determined to accept that recommendation and did in fact accept that recommendation.
SENSENBRENNER: One final question. One of the service people who was prosecuted basically sent an e-mail out that his fellow Marines were in danger. And he ended up getting prosecuted for warning his fellow Marines that their lives may be in danger. Now here in the case of Mrs. Clinton, the private e-mail arrangement was simply to avoid public scrutiny. So in terms of the intent of Major Jason Brezler and Secretary Clinton one, Major Brezler, was doing it to save his colleagues. The other, Secretary Clinton, was to avoid transparency.
In terms of the bottom line, that's the hoop that you have to jump through in order to retain and regain your credibility with the American public. I hope that you'll be able to do that. And I yield back.
GOODLATTE: Chair thanks the gentleman and recognizes the gentleman from New York, Mr. Nadler, for five minutes.
REP. JERROLD NADLER, (D) NEW YORK: Thank you Mr. Chairman. Thank you Ms. Lynch for appearing here today and for your service as Attorney General. I'm sure that many of my Republican colleagues will spend their time discussing the over-hyped matter concerning Secretary Clinton's e- mails and I'm going to focus instead on more important issues facing this country.
We're all sickened by the killings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile outside of St. Paul. According to the ACLU Mr. Castile was the 123rd African-American to be killed by law enforcement this year. That is of course no excuse for last week's vicious murders of five police officers in Dallas but the knowledge that Mr. Sterling's and Mr. Castile's deaths come on the heels of a long list of senseless killings of black men, women and children's encounters with the police might have gone differently had they not been black must spur us to take action.
Black Lives Matter is not a hashtag. It is an imperative. And I appreciate the work that you are doing and your department is doing in this regard and I hope you'll keep us informed on that. But I want to go to a different matter, related, unfortunately. Exactly one month ago today a lone gunman killed 49 people and wounded more than 50 others in an LGTB nightclub in Orlando. Mass shootings are now an all- too-common occurrence in this country. In 2016 there were 229 mass shootings defined as shootings in which at least four people are shot.
As you know every day on average nearly 300 Americans are shot in murders, assaults, suicides, suicide attempts, accidents and police actions. Forty-eight of them are children and teenagers. This is a distinctly American problem. More than 33,000 Americans lose their lives to gun violence each year. In the United Kingdom, in 2011, 146 deaths to gun violence. In Denmark, 71. Portugal, 142. Japan just 30. In the United States, 33,000.
You cannot tell me, no one can tell me, that the American people are a thousand times more mentally ill than people in these other countries.
A recent study in the American Journal of Medicine found that compared to 22 other high-income countries the gun-related murder rate in the United States is 25 times higher. We have held exact (Inaudible) there is an epidemic of gun violence. And how is the majority in Congress responded? With emergency hearings about Hillary Clinton's and Lois Lerner's e-mails. WE have held of course zero hearings on gun violence. We have passed no bills to address the issue. We have done nothing to require universal background checks, we continue to allow military style assault weapons in our streets. We have not even prevented those on the no-fly list from purchasing guns.
That's why I was proud to join John Lewis and nearly the entire Democratic Caucus in protesting the Republican Congress' abdication on this issue. Now, Ms. Lynch, what does the assassination of five Dallas police officers last week tell us about the NRA's favorite adage, "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." The police officers after all were armed. And what about an armed society is a polite society.
LYNCH: Congressman thank you for raising this important issue of gun violence in our society. I don't have a comment on the NRA's positions or statements...
NADLER: But what about that statement -- never mind their positions -- what do you think of the statement that the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Is that true? Does it work?
[10:55:06] LYNCH: Congressman, the issue as usual doesn't really lend itself well to aphorisms and short statements. It;s my hope that the work of many on this committee and indeed throughout Congress in having the discussion that has begun on this issue will continue so that we can in fact continue to work on serious issues of access to firearms in our society.
Earlier this year I did make several recommendations to the White House which were accepted for important ways of dealing with this issue. Ranging from clarifying gun guidance on those who are engaged in the business and therefore must provide background checks for purchasers, ranging from clarifying rules on acquisitions of certain types of firearms, and by those in certain business capacities such as trust.
But also, a very important part of that was a request for additional funding for ATF, for more resources to deal with the information and the issues arising out of gun violence as well as funding for HHS to deal with the issues of mental health that place so many Americans in jeopardy.
NADLER: A loophole in federal law allows the transfer of firearms to anybody after three business days even if a background check is not complete. Last year the FBI concluded the suspect in the shooting in Charleston was able to purchase a gun through this loophole. Should that policy change, should we hold the transfer of firearms until the background check has been completed?
LYNCH: Congressman in order to change that rule it would require Congressional action. The three day waiting period is part of Congressional action that has already been voted on by Congress. And certainly it is a fact that with the rise in purchases and the increased use on the NICS background system, there is ever more use of that system. We are working to improve the NICS system, to make it as efficient as possible. We've expanded the number of personnel working on those background checks. We are working also to improve the automated portion of the NICS system so that the dealers who go through the NICS system will be able to get information more quickly and to be able to respond either by proceeding or denying the sale, or in other ways as appropriate. So we are working within the system as it is currently structured. In order to change that it would require Congressional action.
NADLER: Thank you. My time is expiring but I want to briefly mention one more issue. We've been following the Department's review of the consent decrees that govern ASCAP and BMI. There are reports that the Department is not recommending any changes to the consent decrees but is moving forward with an interpretation of the decrees requiring these organizations to license works on a 100 percent basis instead of the current practice of fractional licensing, in conflict with the formal opinion of the U.S. Registrar of Copyrights.
I've heard from numerous songwriters and constituents greatly concerned about the destruction this will cause in the industry and to the greater process. Several of the parties involved have raised a host of other issues relating to the consent decrees as well. Can you clarify for the committee the status of the Department's review of the consent decrees and the process moving forward?
GOODLATTE: The time of the gentleman has expired. The witness will be permitted to briefly answer the question.
LYNCH: Thank you Mr. Chairman. Thank you Congressman. The anti- trust division is engaged in a review of the consent decree which I believe dates to 1941. It has been utilizing a public comment system. After going through an initial round and receiving public comments another round of public comments was also opened. Those comments are still being reviewed. Stakeholders are being consulted with and it is my understanding that the Anti-Trust Division will be wrapping up this matter shortly. And will be making public its findings and we will of course make sure that they're made available to Congress.
I think they would be in any event provided to you but we will certainly make sure that they are provided to you.
NADLER: Thank you very much.
GOODLATTE: The Chair recognizes the gentleman from Ohio, Mr. Chabot for five minutes.
REP. STEVE CHABOT, (R) OHIO: Thank you Mr. Chairman. Madame Attorney General, I think the thing that I find so disheartening, so unfortunate about FBI Director Comey's decision not to recommend criminal charges against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week was that for a lot of Americans it looked like we're setting a double standard here. Unequal treatment under the law.
Under the facts of the case as laid out by Director Comey, virtually anybody else -- I think most Americans think, including myself -- there would have been charges brought for a crime. Against virtually anybody else in this country. But the politically-connected Hillary Clinton, well we won't charge her. Look what Comey laid out. It's already been laid out to some degree but I think it warrants doing it again.
NADLER: A loophole in federal law allows the transfer of a firearm to anybody --
[10:56:25] CABRERA: We're going to break away from this hearing right now. Again, we're hearing from Attorney General Loretta Lynch, testifying before the House Judiciary Committee right now, hearing from both Republicans and Democrats, asking very different questions.
I want to bring back our panel and talk a little bit about what we've already heard so far. Ron Brownstein, I'm going to come to you first. When you listen to this, it's clear Republicans want to hammer her on the Clinton e-mail probe and she's quick to shut them down, while Democrats continue to talk about the gun violence and police shooting issues. What do you think is effective in how she is responding to their questioning?
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, and look, this is what we're going to see I think for as long as Congress is going to be around. The Republicans want to argue that the decision not to prosecute Clinton was improper, that her actions warranted prosecution, that the attorney general is simply using the FBI decision as a very formidable defense against that. And on the other side, Democrats want to argue the Republicans want to rehash an issue that essentially has been decided by the law enforcement process, and in the process they are short changing other concerns of the country, ranging from gun violence to police relations with African-Americans.
CABRERA: The bottom line here is the majority of Americans, as we've seen in the most recent polling, think Hillary Clinton should have been prosecuted for what she did in her e-mail private server use and exchange classified information as we now know from the FBI's testimony.
So, Nia, does what we're hearing from the attorney general help or hurt Hillary Clinton because she is essentially refusing to answer questions about the e-mail probe?
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: You know, I think that same poll -- I think it was "The Washington Post" poll -- also shows that a majority of people who support Hillary Clinton, something like 60 percent, said that even though they disagreed -- they may have disagreed with the FBI's decision -- that that decision wouldn't affect the likelihood that they would support Hillary Clinton. Something like 30 percent said it would make them less likely to support her.
So I think a lot of this is baked into the cake. I this we talked before about the upside of Republicans continue to go after Hillary Clinton, go after the attorney general, and go after this decision. I think we also see the downsides here, too. Because, again, on the one hand, you're going to have Goodlatte going after Attorney General Lynch. But then you have Conyers there, right, who really is trying to frame this in the way that the Hillary Clinton campaign wants to frame it, essentially say this is a witch hunt, that this -- that Republicans essentially believe in conspiracy theories and this is all about politics and essentially a waste of time, from what Attorney General Lynch called the important issues of the day that are facing this country, namely gun violence and instances of police interactions with African-Americans and other communities.
So, you know, I think if you look at this theater, and we've seen this over and over again with Hillary Clinton, her Benghazi testimony, for instance, last fall -- they have come away I think from some of these hearings, I've seen real -- not necessarily just upsides, but certainly they feel like they are able to score some points as well in some of these events.
CABRERA: All right, Nia-Malika Henderson, Ron Brownstein. Thanks to our entire panel who joined us this morning.
And right now we're going to step away from this hearing. We'll of course continue to monitor and let you know if there are other major headlines that come from it.
Up next, there's another big event we're expecting. Inj ust the next few minutes Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders teaming up on the campaign trail together in New Hampshire. And we will be dipping into that in our next hour for sure.
But for now, I'm over and you're going to be passed off to my colleagues. "AT THIS HOUR" with Berman and Bolduan starts now. I'm Ana Cabrera. Thanks so much for joining me.