By Paul Sperry, RealClearInvestigations
September 30, 2019
Former investigators who fear Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz will pull punches in his upcoming report on alleged FBI abuses point to his inquiry into the so-called tarmac meeting between former President Bill Clinton and then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch in 2016.
They say it illustrates his unwillingness to use his broad powers to uncover information that could be damaging to top officials.
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The Clinton-Lynch tête-à-tête took place on the attorney general’s government plane, parked on a Phoenix airport tarmac, just a week before Hillary Clinton was scheduled to be interviewed by the FBI regarding her private email server.
Lynch and Clinton told Horowitz’s investigators that their June 27, 2016, meeting was “unplanned,” and they denied that Hillary and her investigation — or even her presidential campaign — came up in their conversation, which lasted about a half-hour. They swore they chatted mainly about their grandchildren and golf.
The then nearly 70-year-old Clinton, who claimed he flew to Phoenix to play golf – on a summer day when the mercury hit a blistering 111 degrees – said he had no idea Lynch would be on the tarmac at the same time he was.
“I literally didn’t know she was there until somebody told me she was there,” Clinton swore to the inspector general. “And we looked out the window and [the plane] was really close.”
Lynch, for her part, claimed Clinton suddenly materialized on the doorstep of her plane, catching her by surprise. “We were about to walk off the plane … [a]nd he was literally there,” she swore to investigators.
Lynch had an FBI security detail, and Clinton had a Secret Service detail. Typically, both insist on doing what’s called “advance work,” where they evaluate the security of locations in advance of such meetings, looking for threats, escape routes, critical entry points, weaknesses in security, as well as fire risks and other dangers. But to hear Lynch and Clinton recount the episode, neither of their security teams had advance knowledge of the meeting or were able to prepare for it. It was, they maintained, 100% spontaneous.
Despite the dubious chance-encounter story, Horowitz never checked it out with either security team. Were they really left in the dark? Or was the meeting, in fact, prearranged?
“The OIG considered but decided not to interview the head of Lynch’s FBI security detail,” Horowitz wrote in his report. He also neglected to quiz Clinton’s protective detail. Why? Because requiring them to testify “could impair the protective relationship.”
The two protective details were potentially valuable witnesses for another reason: They may have overheard the conversation on the plane. But Horowitz never bothered to ask them about that.
“We believed it was unlikely that the head of the security detail would have been in a position to be able to overhear the conversation between Lynch and former President Clinton,” Horowitz wrote.
So he was left taking Lynch’s and Clinton’s word, along with that of their political staffs, to draw his conclusion that there was nothing nefarious about their meeting.
He also never asked Lynch or Clinton if they had ever communicated prior to their tarmac meeting, failing to run down rumors that they had also met in New York while Hillary was under investigation.
This was despite the fact that Lynch had previously pressured the FBI to adopt the Clinton campaign’s talking point about the email probe, describing it as a “matter” instead of a criminal investigation, and despite the likelihood of Lynch remaining as attorney general in a Clinton Cabinet.
A reporter for a local TV station spotted the Clinton and Lynch planes that evening and broke the story, which went viral, triggering a flurry of damage-control emails between Justice and FBI staff. Despite this, Lynch refused to recuse herself from the Clinton probe.
In the end, Horowitz wrote off what appeared to be serious misconduct as simply “an error in judgment.”
Chris Swecker, a 24-year veteran of the FBI who served as assistant director of its criminal investigative division, said it was another example of Horowitz “doing a false hustle,” where he makes it seem as if he’s “turning over a lot of rocks” when in fact he is not.