Return to Transcripts main page
AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA
Loretta Lynch/Bill Clinton Meeting Causes Firestorm; Trump Jumps on Clinton Controversy; Jonathan Capehart Interviews Loretta Lynch. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired July 1, 2016 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[11:00:03] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. John Berman is off today.
The chance encounter that's created major political backlash. Right now we're standing by to hear from the Attorney General Loretta Lynch. She's expected to announce she will accept the findings from the FBI and career prosecutor at the Justice Department over whether to bring charges against Hillary Clinton following the investigation into her use of a private e-mail server as the secretary of state. It's an unusual announcement coming from an attorney general in the middle of an investigation. This comes, of course, after that impromptu meeting with former President Bill Clinton on a plane on a tarmac that has now become a major political headache for Hillary Clinton herself. Lynch says they talked about grandkids, they talked about golf games, but Republicans say it reeks of impropriety, and even some Democrats think at the very least it doesn't look good.
Let's get to justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, who's pulling double duty today.
Pamela, great to see you.
What more have you learned about what the attorney general will say today when she steps up?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: She's expected to say that she's going to defer her judgment on this case to the career prosecutors who have been working on it and the FBI investigators, including the FBI director have to say. So she's saying I will accept whatever recommendation they make. And she'll say she can't imagine a scenario where she overrules the conclusion they have reached.
It's important to note, she's not recusing herself. She will still be the person who receives the findings at the very end, but she's going to say she can't imagine a situation where she would overturn that.
This is routinely done in the Justice Department. The prosecutors work on a case and they turn over their findings to the attorney general. It not that common that the attorney general overrules or overturns those findings, but what is unusual is that she's coming out and making this public announcement that this is the way it's going to come down. it's pretty clear the timing of this after the political outcry of her meeting with Bill Clinton, this impromptu meeting that some say was improper, bad optics, and then raises the concern that there could be political intervention in this case. So it's clear, Kate, that she's making this announcement to allay those concerns and sort of downplay that meeting by saying, look, this decision is really going to be from those career prosecutors who have no political incentive here. I'm going to defer to them on this.
BOLDUAN: So what does this announcement mean for the investigation that is ongoing right now?
BROWN: Frankly, it doesn't mean much, because this has been in the works. It's not as thought his is a conclusion she reach after that impromptu meeting, that's she it's going to defer the decision by the career prosecutors. It's something that's been talked about for a while. They know how high-profile this case is. They know the political sensitivities. And so that is a big reason why this is happening. Of course, this all raises the question, when will those findings be delivered to the attorney general.
BROWN: It's still unclear at this point. Just weeks away from the Democratic convention -- Kate?
BOLDUAN: Pamela, in talking to sources in inside Justice, is there bellyaching, eye rolling? Are you getting a sense of how this is being viewed? You have two conflicting things running into each other. You've got the investigation that's being handled by the FBI and career prosecutors within the Justice Department, and then, of course, this has run up to politics of the day.
BROWN: Right. Just to make clear, your question is how is the meeting viewed between Bill Clinton and her, or just in general how this whole situation is being viewed?
BOLDUAN: The whole situation, that now she's being forced to come out and make this announcement at the Aspen Ideas Festival when I'm sure she wanted to talk about something else.
BROWN: The political sensitivities of this have been obvious from the beginning. People are acutely aware of it. I don't think it's a surprise to anyone that in the wake of all this controversy surrounding her meeting with Bill Clinton and she'll come out and formally say, there wasn't anything improper, I will defer to the career prosecutors. But I will say, of course, it is on top of mind that she is -- Hillary Clinton is the presumptive Democratic nominee and there is this ongoing FBI investigation. And so I think as Director Comey said he is mindful is that he wants to go this as thorough as possible but also as quickly as possible.
BOLDUAN: A lot of competing pressures at play at the very least.
Pamela, great to see you. Thank you very much.
We're all keeping our eye, as you can see on the right side of our screen, that is the room at the Aspen Ideas Festival. Loretta Lynch will take to the microphone and then speak with "Washington Post's" Jonathan Capehart. He is going to be having a discussion with her. And we'll keep an eye on that and bring that to you when they take to the stage.
And we're also going to talk about the political fallout. This morning, Donald Trump is seizing on this political error.
CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is tracking that side of the story.
Trump's been jumping on this since this came out but he's also saying a lot more this morning.
[11:05:27] SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Kate. He really wasted no time, immediately coming out after that meeting was revealed, saying it's a conflict of interest, questioning the ethics behind it, and that this shows Bill Clinton and, by association, Hillary Clinton has bad judgment, and saying that this is evidence in his opinion that the political system is rigged. And as you referenced, he's taken to Twitter in a series of tweet this is morning, saying, "Bill Clinton's meeting was a total secret, nobody was to know out it, but he was caught by a reporter." Also going one step farther and playing up the fact that this meeting was shrouded in secrecy, really going to the point that revealed later, trying to cast it in a negative light, really suggesting wrong doing.
In a later tweet, Donald Trump says, "Does anybody really believe that this meeting was just a coincidence?"
Trump making it clear he won't give this up.
I should add that Hillary Clinton has not specifically commented on this yet. She is off the campaign trail at her home in Chappaquiddick -- Kate
BOLDUAN: You expect her to comment or be asked about it at some point.
Donald Trump will be in Colorado today. We'll watch to see if he says anything.
Sunlen, great to see you. Thank you so much.
We're all standing by. Obviously, we're keeping an eye on this camera.
But as we are doing that, let's discuss all of this, the legal angle, the political angle, that's collided in quite a fashion.
CNN legal analyst, Paul Callan, is here; Scottie Nell Hughes, Trump supporter and political editor at rightalert.com; and CNN's chief political correspondent, Dana Bash; and Doug Heye, political strategist, former communications at the RNC; and Angela Rye, CNN political commentator and former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Thank you all so much for being here with me.
Paul, how unusual is this? You kind of hear two conflicting things here, it's not unusual that the attorney general to take the conclusions of career prosecutors in DOJ. But unusual that the A.G. is announcing how she'll handle a case before it's wrapped up.
PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Oh, really. I have to say, it's almost unprecedented, the type of recusal that she's talking about. She's not really getting off the case. She says I can't imagine overruling the career prosecutors, I'm going to follow their recommendations, but she's abdicating her responsibility as attorney general. Remember, the attorney general is supposed to be the adult in the room who is making the final decision. And in a regular case, if it was a mayor of a small city, a Senator, that's one thing, but this is a candidate for president of the United States, and whether or not she will be indicted, theoretically, for this e-mail scandal. You would want somebody very high up in Justice approving or disapproving such actions. So I think it's very unusual to see the attorney general step aside in this situation.
BOLDUAN: Paul, is it semantics to say I'm recusing myself from this and I can't see myself not taking the recommendations of the career? Is there a difference?
CALLAN: Yes. There's a major difference. If she were saying I'm totally taking myself out of the picture, she would be assigning her role to another deputy attorney general to review the career prosecutors and the FBI and make a decision. But she's not saying that. She's saying I'm not going to assign my supervisor role to somebody else. I'm saying accept whatever they recommend. That's very, very unusual. Remember, you're supervising, among other things here, the FBI, and the top Justice Department lawyer or a high-ranking Justice Department lawyer is supposed to be reviewing it from a legal stand point to make sure there's enough evidence to go forward in front of a grand jury. I'm surprise she didn't recuse herself, assigning a new deputy attorney general or assistant attorney general to take my take my role or a special prosecutor as the Republicans suggested, to make the final decision. This is a real hedge that she's talking about today, so far anyway.
[11:09:51] BOLDUAN: And we will wait to hear exactly how she describes the way forward when she takes the podium.
Scottie, Donald Trump, as someone was laying out, she calls it evidence of a rigged system, a theme of the campaign right now. He also says it's an example of Clinton's poor judgment. So with this announced today, is this system a little less rigged this morning?
SCOTTIE NELL HUGHES, POLITICAL EDITOR, RIGHTALERT.COM & TRUMP SUPPORTER: This just solidifies Trump's narrative that Washington, D.C., is dirty. Even if you wanted to sit there and show corruption, they're just going to be corrupt at covering something up.
BOLDUAN: Do you things are improper --
HUGHES: You have to admit, there's been more ambitious damage control in Washington, D.C., over the last 24 hours concerning this. This is why Loretta Lynch had to make this statement. Nothing about that statement -- I would assume that's what the process would have been without her making the statement. She is coming out saying some of the optics of this is not ideal and I'm going to do what I can to make this look as kosher and as legal as possible. What her statement is today, it should be assumed that's how it should be going along.
And would we be talking about this if a local reporter had not exposed this? And by the way, we were told that we could not photograph or videotape this and that this could not get out to the public.
BOLDUAN: Angela, if nothing improper was going on, on the plane, why make this announcement and sort of getting ahead of this by the attorney general?
ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Because we're mid way through a very contentious 2016 election cycle. Lynch is saying what she's already said about this case, of course, she's going to defer to the career prosecutor. She wasn't just appointed by Barack Obama to serve as U.S. attorney general for eastern district of New York. That appointment was made by Bill Clinton. If there was any concern about impropriety, that is where Republicans could have called foul. I don't think it's foul even still. But the reality is that this is Bill Clinton's wife, he was the one that appointed her to allow her to get to this next step. Her having a conversation with the man who provided her the opportunity is ridiculous. Of course, there's nothing wrong with it. But the optics of where we are in the election cycle has everything to do with it.
The other thing, what pattern had been set by the United States Department of Justice? When Eric Holder had a similar very contentious case for a Bush appointee, he deferred to the highest- ranking career prosecutor. That's not abnormal.
RYE: Not she has to because there's been this hoopla, starting with Republicans. This is all very interesting to me, them calling foul here, because that is exactly what they have done with the special commission on Benghazi. $7 million later, there's still all of this political fodder and most of this has to do with what the Republicans did there.
BOLDUAN: Guys, hold on. We'll get in a quick break. We're keeping an eye on it. They should be taking the stage any minute.
We'll get in a quick break. Stick with us. Loretta Lynch, the attorney general, taking the stage at the Aspen Ideas Festival. We're listening closely to what she has to say. We're going to be right back.
[11:17:00] Hi, there. We're going to go back to Aspen, Colorado, where we see the Attorney General Loretta Lynch getting ready to sit down with "Washington Post's" Jonathan Capehart. We'll keep an eye -- they're sitting down. We might as well listen in as they're getting started.
JONATHAN CAPEHART, COLUMNIST, WASHINGTON POST: And also as an MSNBC contributor, thank you for being here this morning.
Attorney general, thank you for being here.
LORETTA LYNCH, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Thank you for having me.
CAPEHART: As Walter said, you have a reputation of having the highest integrity, utmost, solid judgment. So when people heard people heard what went down in Phoenix, a lot of people were like, I mean, friends, supporters, backers, saying, what on earth was she thinking talking to Bill Clinton? What on earth were you thinking?
LYNCH: Well, I think that's the question of the day, isn't it?
LYNCH: I think it's a perfectly reasonable question, I think that's the question that is called by what happened in Phoenix because people have also wondered and raised questions about my role in the ultimate resolution of matters involving the investigation into the State Department e-mails. And to the extent that people have questions about that, about my role in that, certainly my meeting with him raises questions and concerns, so believe me, I completely get that question. And I think it is the question of the day.
But I think the issue is, again, what is my role is how that matter is going to be resolved? Let me be clear on how that is going to be resolved. I have gotten that question a lot of times. But I think it is important that people see what that process is like, as I have always indicated, the matter is being handled by career agents and investigators that have handled it since the beginning.
CAPEHART: Which predates your tenure as attorney general.
LYNCH: They predate my tenure as attorney general. It's the same team. They are acting independently. They follow the law. They follow the facts. That team will make findings, that is to stay that will come up with a chronology of what happened, the factual scenario, they will make recommendations as to how to resolve what those facts lead to. The recommendations will be reviewed by career supervisors and by the FBI director, and, as is the common process, they will present it to me, and I fully expect to accept the recommendations.
CAPEHART: You say you fully expect to accept their recommendations. One thing people were saying when the news broke was that you were, quote, "recusing" yourself from having any kind of role in the final determination, is that the case?
LYNCH: A recusal would mean that I wouldn't even be briefed on what the findings were or what the actions going forward would be. While I don't have a role in those findings, in coming up with those findings, or making those recommendations on how to move forward, I will briefed on it and I will be accepting their recommendations.
[11:20:11] CAPEHART: When you say -- again, this must be the journalist in me or the linguist in me. Accepting, to me, means, here, Madam Attorney General, here are our findings and you accept them whole heartedly and issue them to the public, or you accept them and look them over and make your own determination as to what the final determination will be.
LYNCH: No. The final determination of how to proceed will be contained in the recommendations in the report. And whatever format the team puts together, that has not been resolved, whatever report they provide to me. There will be a review of their investigation, there will be a review of what they have found and determined to have happened and occurred, and it will be their determinations as to how they feel the case should proceed.
CAPEHART: When you say there will be a review, you mean the review will be done by you once you accept the recommendations and determinations --
-- or are you talking about the process of the review getting to that point?
LYNCH: I understand. I'm talking about the initial process of how this case will be resolved by the team that's been working on it. Supervisors always review matters. In this case, that review will be career people in the Department of Justice, and the FBI will review it, up to and including the FBI director, and that will be the finalization of not just the factual findings but the next steps in this matter.
CAPEHART: Several times, you have made a point of saying career prosecutors, career officials within the Justice Department. Why are you making that very hard distinction, that description?
LYNCH: A lot of the questions that I have gotten over the past several months about my role in this investigation and what it would likely be was a question or a concern about whether someone who was a political appointee would be involved in deciding how to investigate a matter or what something meant or how should the case proceed going forward. And as I have always said, this matter would be handled by the career people who are independent. They live from administration to administration. Their role is to follow the facts and follow the law and make a determination as to what happened and what those next steps should be.
But, you know, in my role as attorney general, there are cases that come up to me, I am informed of them from time to time. In this case, as you know, has generated a lot of attention. I'll be informed of those findings as opposed to never reading them or never seeing them, but I will be accepting their recommendations and their plans for going forward.
CAPEHART: "The New York Times" reported this morning that the Justice Department officials said, back in April, that what you're talking about right now was already being considered. And so the question is, before President Clinton boarded your plane in Arizona, had you already made the determination that what you're announcing today was, indeed, what you were going to do?
LYNCH: Yes, I had already determined that would be the process. In large part, because, I'm sure you know as a journalist, I do this question a lot, and as I have said on occasions as to why we don't talk about ongoing investigations in terms of what's being discussed and who's being interviewed, is to preserve the integrity of that investigation. We also typically don't talk about the process by which we make decisions. And I've provided that response, too. But in this situation, because I did have that meeting, it has raised concerns. And while I can certainly say, this will be handled like any other, as it was always been, it's going to be resolved like any other, as it was always going to be, I think people need the information about exactly how that resolution will come about in order to know what that means and really accept that and have faith in the ultimate decisions of the Department of Justice.
@: Back to my first question, the "what were you thinking" question.
But let me put a different spin on it and ask, when you're on your plane, from having been in Washington for a while and knowing how the protocol works, you land and people get off, you get off, for all sorts of reasons, and it happens fast, you're on your plane and in walks the former president of the United States. What were you thinking at that moment?
LYNCH: As I have said, you know, he said hello, and we basically said hello, and I congratulated him on his grandchildren, as people tend to do. And that led to a conversation about those grandchildren, who sound great.
And that led to a conversation about his travels and what he had been doing in Phoenix and various things. And we spoke about former attorney general, Janet Reno. But it really was a social meeting. He really was in that regard. He spoke to me and he spoke to my husband for several moments and we moved on.
[11:25:19] As I said before, I do think, no matter how I viewed it, I understand how people view it. And I think that because of that and because of the fact that it is now cast a shadow over how this case may be perceived, no matter how it's resolved, it's important to talk about how it will be resolved. It's important to make it clear that that meeting with President Clinton does not have a bearing on how this matter is going to be reviewed, resolved and accepted by me. That's the question it raises. Again, no matter how I viewed it, what is important to me is how people view the Department of Justice because of that meeting? How do people review the team that has worked on this from the beginning, because of that meeting? How do people view the work we do everyday on behalf of the American people, which we strive to do with integrity and independence. That's the question for me. That's why I felt it was important to talk about what impact that meeting would have case, which it won't, but in order to explain that, we have to talk about how it will be resolved.
@: You've know President Clinton for a long time. He's the one who nominated you and appointed you to a U.S. attorney for the Eastern District in 1999. So I'm wondering, you have a relationship, is that I'm trying to get to, in terms of long-standing professional relationship. So you would be well within your right to say, get off my plane, what are you doing here?
Do you regret not telling the former president of the United States to leave the premises?
LYNCH: As I have said, I may have viewed it in a certain light, but the issue is, how does it impact the work that I do and what the Department of Justice does. I certainly wouldn't do it again.
Because I think it has cast a shadow over what it should not, over what it will not touch. That's why, as I said, I think it's important to talk about how this matter will be resolved, and how the review and how the determinations and the decisions will be made.
I will say, as I have said, it's going to be handled by career people and then we can make an announcement as to what it is. But unless people have some insight into that process, they're not going to be able to evaluate that. The most important thing for me, as the attorney general, is the integrity of this Department of Justice. The fact that the meeting that I had is now casting a shadow over how people are going to view that work is something that I take seriously and deeply and painfully. It's important to provide as much information as we can so that people can have a few view of how we do our work and why we do our work and how this case is going to be resolved, as well as how all the cases that we look at are going to be resolved.
CAPEHART: And what's happened as a result of this, there are people who are out there in the world are saying, see, this is an example of the system that's rigged against the rest of us. And you just said that this whole incident has been painful, is one of the words, one of the words you used. What would you say to the American people who might -- who believe that, yes, indeed, this is an example of Washington rigged against them?
LYNCH: I think that people have a whole host of reasons to have questions about how we in government do our business and how we handle business and how we handle matters. And I think that, again, I understand that my meeting on the plane with former President Clinton could give them another reason to have questions and concerns also. And that is something that -- and that's why I said it's painful to me, because the integrity of the Department of Justice is important. What I would say to people is to look at the work that we do. Look at the matters that we work on every day, whether they involve a high- profile matter, or a matter where you have never heard of the person. Look at the victims that we deal with every day. Look at the people that we protect every day. Because that's our mission. And to the extent that this issue has overshadowed that mission, yes, that's painful to me. And so I think it's important that we provide as much information as we can so people can have faith and confidence in the work of the department and the work of the people who carry on this work every day.
CAPEHART: And last question on this, so when might we expect your acceptance of these findings and determinations?
Are we looking at weeks, months, days?
LYNCH: In terms of timing, I actually don't know that. Again, I don't have that insight into this -- I would say the nuts and bolts of the investigation at this point in time. They're working on it. They're working on it very hard. They're working on it to make sure that they're thorough as they can be, that they have covered at every angle, that they've looked at every issue.