NYT: Comey went public about Emailgate partly because he didn't trust Loretta Lynch to be impartial

Lynch’s untrustworthiness has always been a key ingredient to the Comey/Emailgate saga. If not for the tarmac meeting with Bill Clinton last spring, it would have fallen to her as AG to make the final decision on whether to charge Hillary. Instead, because of the suspicions surrounding her, she declared publicly that she’d follow whatever recommendation the FBI made. That left Comey as the ultimate decision-maker, so when the investigation concluded, he felt obliged to state his reasons publicly. And, having done so, he felt further obliged in October after the feds started looking through Anthony Weiner’s laptop to notify the public that maybe the investigation wasn’t concluded after all. History will never know what might have happened, or not happened, had Bill Clinton stayed off Lynch’s plane and Comey remained in a subordinate role on the Clinton matter.

According to the Times, though, there’s more to the story than that. The tarmac meeting was important in thrusting Comey into a public spotlight on Emailgate, but unbeknownst to most of the country, he and the FBI had already developed suspicions about Lynch’s political bias towards Clinton. They began in the fall of 2015 when Lynch warned the Bureau to be careful about how it described the Clinton investigation. Try not to use the word “investigation,” she insisted:

At the meeting, everyone agreed that Mr. Comey should not reveal details about the Clinton investigation. But Ms. Lynch told him to be even more circumspect: Do not even call it an investigation, she said, according to three people who attended the meeting. Call it a “matter.”

Ms. Lynch reasoned that the word “investigation” would raise other questions: What charges were being investigated? Who was the target? But most important, she believed that the department should stick by its policy of not confirming investigations.

It was a by-the-book decision. But Mr. Comey and other F.B.I. officials regarded it as disingenuous in an investigation that was so widely known. And Mr. Comey was concerned that a Democratic attorney general was asking him to be misleading and line up his talking points with Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, according to people who spoke with him afterward.

A few months earlier, when news first broke about the feds launching an investigation into Hillary’s emails, Lynch’s DOJ made a point of saying that the referral it had received about classified info possibly being compromised “was not a criminal referral.” Hillary herself later pointed to that as a way of turning down the political heat, insisting that the probe was merely a “security review.” But it was a criminal investigation, of course; one prosecutor teased Comey about Lynch’s semantic parsing by telling him that he now ran the “Federal Bureau of Matters.” The DOJ’s early insistence on giving Hillary cover with the silly investigation/matter distinction appears to have planted a seed of suspicion at the Bureau about Lynch’s motives.

Then the suspicions deepened:

During Russia’s hacking campaign against the United States, intelligence agencies could peer, at times, into Russian networks and see what had been taken. Early last year, F.B.I. agents received a batch of hacked documents, and one caught their attention.

The document, which has been described as both a memo and an email, was written by a Democratic operative who expressed confidence that Ms. Lynch would keep the Clinton investigation from going too far, according to several former officials familiar with the document…

If Ms. Lynch announced that the case was closed, and Russia leaked the document, Mr. Comey believed it would raise doubts about the independence of the investigation.

“Mr. Comey’s defenders regard this as one of the untold stories of the Clinton investigation,” the Times notes, “one they say helps explain his decision-making” in choosing to announce the results of the investigation himself. Big unanswered question, though: Was the Democratic operative speaking with inside knowledge when he/she claimed that Lynch would see to it that the investigation didn’t blow up Hillary’s candidacy or was he/she just guessing? The Times lets that dangle, never following up on whether the FBI tried to substantiate the allegation somehow. Then again, what were they supposed to do — approach the operative and say, “Do you happen to know whether our boss is in the tank for Hillary?” That might have (and probably would have) gotten back to Lynch, who wouldn’t have appreciated the Bureau questioning her integrity. Lynch’s defenders have a fair unanswered question too, though: If Comey thought she was compromised, why didn’t he ask her to recuse herself? Even if he was wary of confronting her with “evidence” as thin as a hacked DNC memo that didn’t directly accuse her of corruption, the concern about the memo leaking was a real one. If Lynch had announced the decision not to charge Hillary and that memo had gone public, we on the right would have had a field day with it as proof that the fix was in. Comey should have wanted her to recuse herself for that reason alone, to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. So why didn’t he ask her to?

It’s weird that the single most election-changing document stolen by the Russians wasn’t anything released by Wikileaks but rather the memo described above, which helped set in motion the chain of events that led to Comey’s fateful letter in late October. It’s the nexus of Russiagate and Emailgate. And it might have helped decide the presidency. Even so, if Lynch hadn’t given Comey reason to question her motives in the first place, capped by that dubious tarmac meeting, he might have remained in the background and the suspicions about Lynch’s bias would have remained a conservative hobbyhorse, not something that ultimately affected the course of the election.