Real Clear Investigation’s Eric Felten obtained a copy of the still unreleased transcript of then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s Congressional testimony about her infamous tarmac meeting with Bill Clinton.
On the evening of Monday, June 27, 2016, between 7 and 8 pm, Clinton made his way onto Lynch’s private plane which had recently landed at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport.
Four days later, on Friday, July 1st, Hillary Clinton was interviewed by FBI agents for 3 1/2 hours about her use of a private email server during her tenure as Secretary of State.
The following Tuesday, July 5th, then-FBI Director James Comey held a press conference during which he recounted Hillary Clinton’s many violations of the law, before making the stunning announcement that he was clearing the former first lady of wrongdoing.
Testifying under oath in a closed-door hearing on December 19, 2018 before the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees, Lynch answered questions about her encounter with Clinton.
Felten describes it as “both perplexing and preposterous, a story that defies innocent explanation.”
The day after their meeting, a reporter questioned Lynch about what she and Bill Clinton had discussed the previous evening. She replied, “Our conversation was a great deal about his grandchildren… It was primarily social, there was no discussion of any matter pending for the [Justice] department or any matter pending for any other body.”
According to Felten, the reality was quite different than the answer she gave to the press. He reported:
The meeting she described to lawmakers was a forced and awkward encounter in which Bill Clinton was strangely eager to meet with her, so eager that he made it up the stairs and onto her plane without being invited. And once aboard, he simply could not be persuaded to leave, chatting and chatting and chatting, strangely oblivious to Lynch’s repeated hints he had overstayed his welcome.
Although spokespeople for the Attorney General tried to characterize it as a “chance” meeting, “it was anything but.”
Lynch had just touched down in Phoenix ahead of a meeting scheduled for the next day at a local police station.
During her testimony, Lynch “explained there was a standard protocol for getting everyone off the plane. They would always deplane in a series, “security detail first, my staff [next], and then I would leave and go immediately to the car. Security exited, then the staff, all as per normal.”
She told lawmakers that, as she and her husband “walked to the door, the head of my security detail came to me and said: ‘Ma’am, I’ve been informed that former President Clinton is also at the airfield and would like to say hello.’” Seconds later, “former President Clinton was standing in the doorway of the plane.”
He proceeded to work the room (or perhaps we should say the fuselage). After a cursory hello to Lynch and her husband, Clinton greeted her “security detail officer, shook his hand, and then stepped toward the back of the plane” where there “were two members of the flight crew.” Clinton lavished them with attention. According to the former AG’s congressional interview, Clinton “said hello to them, shook their hand, spent about five minutes talking with both of those two individuals.”
Finally, he approached Lynch and her husband. She said, “I sort of reintroduced him to my husband. Clinton spoke with him for several minutes, asked about our trip, asked about our flight…I congratulated him on their new grandchild. And we were standing up, and he turned and said, thank you very much, and started talking about that. Asked my husband if we had children. They began talking about children and kids.”
She said that lasted for “maybe eight or nine minutes, a little under 10 minutes” and added “it was the only real conversation I’ve ever had with him.”
Investigators asked Lynch what else they had spoken about. “Well, he asked what brought me to Phoenix. He asked how my travels were, and I mentioned looking forward to seeing the police department. He also asked had I been traveling a lot. I mentioned that I had just gotten back from China but had cut that trip short to come back and go down to Florida because of the Pulse Nightclub shooting…And that was probably the extent, the largest part of my conversation with him.”
Lynch said she tried several times to make a gracious exit. “And at one point, I said: Well, you know, thank you very much. It’s lovely seeing you. We have to move on…He made a comment about where he was headed to next and started talking about his next location. He finished that anecdote. I don’t recall what it was about.”
She tried again to end the conversation. “And I, again, said: Well, you know, thank you very much. It’s been nice seeing you. You know, we have to move on. But he continued chatting. He continued talking.”
Judiciary Committee majority staffer Zach Somers asked her, “Was he doing anything campaign-related that was part of that discussion?”
She responded, “He didn’t share that with me. He said he had been playing golf.”
The temperature in Phoenix had reached a mid-day high of 110 degrees that day.
Felten spoke to Christopher Sign, the reporter who broke the story. Sign said, “To this day I have never found a single person who claims or corroborates any story that Bill Clinton played golf on this particular trip. I feel strongly the former president did not play golf on this visit.”
According to DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz, Bill Clinton was in Phoenix to “attend several campaign fundraisers.”
Lynch again told Clinton that they had to move on. “Clinton said he was moving on someplace as well. And I don’t recall if he was going to West Virginia, but somehow he ended up talking about West Virginia. And he had sort of an anecdote about West Virginia coal mining that was sort of a historical issue. It wasn’t something that I was familiar with.”
“And we were talking about, again, moving on. And at one point a staffer of mine came on the plane to get me. And at that point the president was — Mr. Clinton was then talking about Brexit. He was saying that either he had been reading an article about Brexit, and he made a reference — he quoted something that had been in The Times — The New York Times, I should say — about Brexit when my staffer was stepping on to the plane.”
Lynch was asked if she had ever thought to herself, “Maybe I shouldn’t have this conversation”?
She answered, “As we — as his conversation continued, I just felt that the conversation was continuing for too long. And I thought that not only did we need to move on, he didn’t seem to have any particular purpose in talking to me, you know, there was nothing specific he seemed to want to say. And after you exchange pleasantries, really people typically go on about their days, or about their evenings in this case…The conversation went on too long…As we were leaving I felt that it was — it certainly was going to raise a potential issue in the appearance of how the case was being handled.”
How much of an issue? James Comey was FBI director at the time of the tarmac meeting. Much later — just two days before Lynch’s closed door testimony on Capitol Hill — Comey gave his own private congressional interview. He claimed to have been so troubled by the Lynch/Clinton get-together that he considered calling for a special counsel to investigate. But, he decided a special counsel wasn’t necessary. Which left him in the position to usurp from Lynch, with his July 5, 2016 press conference, the decision of whether or not to prosecute Hillary.
Let’s assume for the sake of argument that Lynch was not lying to Congress. If so, it seems to have dawned on her rather late that Clinton had compromised her, had put her in a jam. What if that’s exactly what he set out to do? It would explain the ex-president’s otherwise inexplicable behavior — how one of the great glad-handers of all time leapt onto a plane in order to bore everyone to death. He was anything but clueless; he was demonstrating to the attorney general that he could cause her real trouble, and could do so with cheerful impunity. He didn’t have to make heavy-handed threats or otherwise put himself at risk of an obstruction of justice charge. No, all he had to do was darken the airplane doorway and prattle on with seeming obliviousness about grandkids, travel plans, coal mining, golf, and Brexit.
In the wake of that bravura performance, Lynch had to convene working groups to determine whether she needed to recuse herself from the Hillary probe. She would untimately decide against recusal, but said she would accept the decision of career staff and the FBI on whether to prosecute.
What a mess. And what a splendidly innocent way of causing mayhem and conveying menace. Give Bill Clinton his due — the man is no amateur.
This theory has a lot of merit. The entire visit last approximately 20 minutes. He spoke to Lynch and her husband for under ten minutes. It would likely take longer than that to transition from small talk to “please go easy on Hillary,” especially with someone he had never had a proper conversation with.
In addition, Lynch’s husband was present which made him a potential witness. If he had been speaking to Lynch alone, anything he said could be later denied.
It’s also possible that Clinton had intended to speak to Lynch about Hillary’s case, but his plan was foiled once he learned she was accompanied by her husband.
Clinton is a smart man. He is also a devious, calculating man. Would he risk his reputation or his wife’s presidential campaign by asking the Attorney General to clear Hillary? Probably not.
Would he manipulate a situation and try to put an influential person into a difficult situation if it served his purposes? Sure, he would. Bill Clinton has spent a lifetime perfecting his skills. He is the master of the game.