During congressional testimony Tuesday, the chief law enforcement officer in the United States refused to answer simple question about letting people without a security clearance have access to classified information.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz asked Attorney General Loretta Lynch some basic question about the handling of classified material. AG Lynch repeatedly refused to offer any firm answers, instead suggesting that it would depend on the circumstances.
Chaffetz: Does an individual need a security clearance to review or have access to classified material?
Lynch: Well, congressman, that issue would be dependent upon the agency for whom they worked and the nature of the work that they did with respect to…
Chaffetz: Can you give me an example where you don’t need a security clearance to view classified material?
Lynch: No, I believe as I was going to say, they would, but the type of clearance varies with every agency and the agency would make that decision and determination.
Chaffetz: Is it legal or illegal to share classified information with somebody who doesn’t have a security clearance?
Lynch: Congressman, it depends on the facts of every situation. You’d have to determine how that sharing occurred. You’d have to determine the means. You’d have to determine the reason, the intent, um, certainly depending on how you view the statute it could go any number of ways.
Chaffetz: So you think there is a scenario in which you could share classified information with somebody who doesn’t have the requisite security clearance?
Lynch: No, I would not draw that conclusion. I would say that I’m not able to answer it as a hypothetical but there are a number of factors that would go into the decision and one could have any number of results.
This exchange continued for several more minutes. Rep. Chaffetz next asked about storing classified material in a non-secured location. AG Lynch again refused to answer saying, “I don’t have a hypothetical answer for that.”
It’s not hard to see what is going on here. Republicans no doubt hoped they could get Lynch to repeat some of the criticisms of Hillary Clinton’s reckless behavior made by FBI Director Comey last week. But Lynch said at the outset of her testimony, “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 team’s recommendation. In other words, Lynch is absolutely determined not to criticize Hillary Clinton on camera.
Having said this at the outset, Lynch then proceeded to avoid any firm conclusions that might lead to awkward follow-up questions. Eventually Rep. Chaffetz pointed out that Lynch seemed unwilling to answer some pretty basic questions.
“You know, these questions are pretty simple. And you’ve got millions of people with security clearance. How are they supposed to go through the gyrations that you’ve laid out in order to make a simple determination?” Chaffetz asked. But Lynch again said it would be “unfair” to give a blanket answer to a hypothetical question.
“‘You can’t do this, it’s against the law!’ why can’t you say that?” Chaffetz asked. Lynch replied that each agency gave people guidance about sharing classified material but she refused to make a blanket statement.
“Someone asked me to consult an attorney and you are the Attorney General and I think you’re sending a terrible message to the world…the lack of clarity that you give to this body, the lack of clarity on this issue is pretty stunning,” Chaffetz concluded.