One week after the FBI recommended no charges against Hillary Clinton for her handling of emails as secretary of state, America’s top law enforcement officer declined to discuss specifics of the matter on Capitol Hill.
Again and again Tuesday, Republican lawmakers demanded answers as to why the Justice Department is not prosecuting Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. Each time, Attorney General Loretta Lynch declined to provide them.
“Were a rank-and-file federal employee to do what Secretary Clinton did, they would face severe punishment,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia. “But Secretary Clinton is not facing prosecution for her actions.”
“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 investigation or the legal basis for the [FBI] team’s recommendation [against prosecution],” Lynch responded moments later.
The attorney general gave nearly identical responses numerous times in several hours of testimony. Republicans grew increasingly incredulous and exasperated as time wore on, repeatedly pointing out that ultimate responsibility for prosecutorial decisions rests with her.
“You are in charge of the Department of Justice. The buck stops with you,” said Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin.
“My decision was to accept the recommendation of the team of agents and investigators who worked on this ... including the FBI director, who worked on this matter for over a year,” Lynch replied.
Last week, FBI Director James Comey announced that while Clinton had been extremely careless in handling and storing official State Department correspondence, the bureau had concluded that her actions did not constitute a crime.
While Republicans fumed Tuesday, Democrats on the committee decried what they saw as politically-motivated theatrics at a time when the United States faces life-and-death issues of public safety and justice.
“We’re beating a dead horse here for political reasons,” said California Representative Zoe Lofgren.
“There is an epidemic of gun violence, and how has the [Republican] majority in Congress responded? With emergency hearings on Hillary Clinton’s emails,” said New York Representative Jerrold Nadler.
Lynch described the recent shooting deaths in the United States as tragic, saying that building trust between law enforcement and local communities “has never been more difficult, or more important.”