The Slatest

Bill Clinton’s Surprise Loretta Lynch Visit Isn’t a Scandal. But It Is a Problem.

Hillary Clinton shares a moment onstage with husband, Bill, during her primary night event in Brooklyn on June 7.

Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

Bill Clinton either couldn’t stop himself or didn’t want to. On Monday, the former president stepped off his private plane in Phoenix and walked across the tarmac to pay a visit to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who was aboard a government plane parked at the same airport. The unplanned drop-in, according to Lynch, was nothing more than a harmless social call during which Clinton mostly talked about his grandkids. Republicans, of course, saw something else entirely. “The system is totally rigged,” Donald Trump tweeted Friday. “Does anybody really believe that meeting was just a coincidence?”

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Trump and his conservative allies are—surprise, surprise—overplaying this. There’s absolutely no evidence that this was a planned meeting, and if Clinton wants to flex his political muscle or try to call in a favor to help his wife, all he would need to do is pick up the phone. Likewise, there’s also nothing to suggest that Lynch would bow to such pressure even if it were there.

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On Friday, she announced that the final decision on whether to bring charges against Hillary Clinton or anyone else in connection with her private email server will be decided by career prosecutors at the FBI, not her, which she also suggested was the plan from the get-go. “It’s important to make it clear that that meeting with President Clinton does not have a bearing on how this matter will be reviewed and resolved,” she said during an appearance at the Aspen Ideas Festival. She conceded, though, the meeting was a mistake. “No matter how I viewed it,” she said, “I understand how people view it.”

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You can give the attorney general the benefit of the doubt and still think Bill’s surprise visit with the woman who will ultimately need to sign off on the FBI’s findings is a serious problem. Is it more troubling than the thought of Donald Trump in the White House? Of course not. Almost nothing is. But, at best, the meeting is yet another infuriating reminder that the Clintons are either unwilling or unable to consider the consequences their actions have on other people, be it the U.S. attorney general or the American public. For Bill, the chance to chit-chat with Lynch and her husband was more important that avoiding the appearance of a conflict of interest in an ongoing FBI investigation that has been making headlines for months. For Hillary, the chance to carry one less phone (in her questionable telling) was a good enough reason to limit public transparency and put sensitive government information at risk. (Those decisions aren’t exactly one-off mistakes, either.)

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You may be thinking: But it’s not Bill and Hillary’s fault that conservatives see conspiracy and corruption around every Clinton corner. In which case, you’re not entirely wrong. The latest Benghazi report—which took two years, cost $7 million, and yet offered no major revelations—is evidence of that, as is Donald Trump’s recent suggestion that the Clintons are actual, real-life murderers.

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But you don’t have to be partial to tweeting Benghazi acrostics to get worked up over this Lynch mess. Yes, the possibility of favor trading and conflicts of interest hangs over almost every decision in and out of Washington. And, no, Bill and Hillary Clinton didn’t create the imperfect system we have. But it’s also clear that they’ve come as close as anyone has to perfecting how to use it to their own advantage. The fact that they refuse to acknowledge the power of their, well, power and act accordingly is either willfully naïve or intentionally dishonest. Neither of which should make anyone feel any better about the idea of them returning to the White House.

Read more Slate coverage of the 2016 campaign.

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