You think Jim Comey agrees?
Remember, if not for the tarmac meeting, it would have fallen to Lynch to make the final decision on whether to prosecute Clinton. Because the meeting happened, though, she quasi-recused herself by promising publicly to accept whatever the FBI recommended in terms of charges. That pushed the spotlight off of Lynch and on to Comey. If not for that, maybe Comey wouldn’t have felt the need to deliver that unusual public statement in July explaining that, while he wouldn’t recommend charges, Clinton and her staff had been “extremely careless” in handling classified information. Hillary’s polling swooned in the aftermath, reinforcing public suspicions that she really was crooked. Imagine an alternate scenario in which Lynch, not Comey, had to make the final decision for the DOJ and announce it publicly. Would Lynch have delved into the same damning amount of detail Comey did in explaining what Clinton did or would she have issued a terse, pro forma statement about there being insufficient evidence? Would that have ended up damaging Clinton worse because it was Lynch, a Democratic political appointee, handing her a “get out of a jail free” card rather than Comey? Or would it have mitigated the damage to Hillary by sparing the public from the stuff about extreme carelessness? Your answer depends on which part of Emailgate you believe hurt Clinton more, the fact that she exhibited something akin to gross negligence by setting up her private server or the fact that she paid no price for it due to her elite political privilege.
There’s a follow-up question. If Lynch rather than Comey had made the announcement in July about not prosecuting Clinton, would Comey have felt the same need in late October to issue a letter announcing that the investigation had been reopened because of material found on Anthony Weiner’s computer? Comey may have felt obliged to update Congress immediately on the Weiner stuff because he, not Lynch, was the public face of the investigation. He had put his own credibility on the line by standing before the cameras in July; if something had now changed in the email saga, he had to protect that credibility by being publicly forthcoming about it. If instead Lynch had made the July statement clearing Hillary, maybe Comey would have gone to her office with the discovery of the Weiner material and let her decide whether to notify Congress or not. And maybe Lynch would have concluded, as many Democrats did at the time, that the fact that the investigation had been reopened shouldn’t be publicly revealed unless and until new incriminating evidence had been discovered — which, as it turned out, none was. That is to say, if not for the tarmac meeting, there’s a chance that there wouldn’t have been any late October surprise related to Emailgate. And without that, maybe Hillary wins the presidency. Don’t forget, late deciders broke overwhelmingly for Trump on Election Day; if not for the Comey letter reminding them at a critical moment of Hillary Clinton’s essential shadiness, maybe they wouldn’t have broken as strongly. And that might have been the difference in the Rust Belt.
Then again, you could also speculate that if the decision to charge Clinton had been left to Lynch rather than Comey, Comey might have recommended charges against Hillary after all knowing that it would be Lynch’s decision whether to accept that recommendation and prosecute. The statute, after all, criminalizes “gross negligence”; Comey accused Clinton of having been “extremely careless,” which, um, is the same thing. He chose not to recommend charges, he said, not because the evidence was thin but because suspects in the past typically had not been charged under that statute unless they’d demonstrated intent to mishandle classified info, not mere negligence. If the decision on how to read the statute had fallen to Lynch, maybe she would have decided that she had no choice but to follow the FBI’s advice and go forward with charges — especially knowing that it would have been a mega-scandal if she refused to charge and then the media found out that the FBI had recommended prosecution. Had that happened, with Lynch charging Hillary, Hillary might well have dropped out of the race. And … that might have led to a Democratic victory too, ironically, as either Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders as substitute nominee might have stolen enough votes from Trump’s working-class base to hold on to the “blue firewall” in the midwest. You can at least make the argument that Lynch’s tarmac meeting with Bill Clinton set in motion a chain of events that secured Trump’s victory. A fine legacy for the two of them as they return to political irrelevance.