Testimony at today’s Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on James Comey’s communications with President Trump included repeated mentions of one of the biggest topics of last year’s election — Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. Most prominently, Majority Whip John Cornyn took his turn questioning Comey today and chose to focus on the email probe, a subject he’s returned to several times since Comey’s firing.
It seems, in a way, inevitable that Clinton’s emails would resurface as a subject of inquiry. Before Comey was in the headlines for being abruptly fired by Donald Trump, he was in the news for going public on his investigation into Clinton’s server. Cornyn asked Comey today about how the email server probe unfolded, as well as the role of then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch, especially concerning her controversial meeting with Bill Clinton on an airport tarmac.
Back when the server story was still unfolding, Cornyn called for Comey to launch a full investigation with its own special counsel, similar to the role that Robert Mueller is playing in the FBI’s Russia probe. At the time, Comey explained that he went public because “given the importance of the matter, I think unusual transparency is in order.” He concluded, however, that there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.
Today, Cornyn asked Comey why he didn’t pursue a special counsel after Lynch’s meeting with Bill Clinton, and Comey responded:
“After former President Clinton met on the plane with [then Attorney General Loretta Lynch], I considered whether I should call for the appointment of a special counsel and decided that that would be an unfair thing to do because I knew there was no case there. We had investigated very, very thoroughly. I know this is a subject of passionate disagreement. But I knew there was no case there. Calling for the appointment of special counsel would be brutally unfair and would send the message there’s something here.”
After Comey was fired in May, Cornyn took to Twitter to highlight the dramatic shift in attitudes towards Comey, noting that many Democrats who had been against Comey for his role in damaging Clinton’s campaign were suddenly defending him after Trump said he was unfit to lead the bureau of investigations. Cornyn was also on the list of possible replacements for Comey, but he declined to be considered, citing the importance of his work in the Senate.
One especially interesting part of Comey’s response to Cornyn’s line of inquiry was his testimony that Loretta Lynch wanted to rhetorically downplay the seriousness of the email server investigation by calling it a “matter.” He explained that “we had a criminal investigation open at the time, so that gave me a queasy feeling.” While some watching Cornyn’s questions felt it was partisan gamesmanship to return to the subject of Clinton’s emails, others are wondering if this will mean trouble for Lynch in the near future.
One thing is clear though — Comey’s testimony so far has raised a number of questions about the honesty of high level officials from Lynch to the President himself, which will concern Americans on both sides of the aisle.