WASHINGTON ― It’s not just Pokemon that’s made a comeback from the ‘90s. Members of Congress brought back the Monica Lewinsky scandal Tuesday in a hearing with Attorney General Loretta Lynch, apparently frustrated with Lynch’s answers about Hillary Clinton’s email.
Lynch was on Capitol Hill for a regular Judiciary Committee hearing on the Department of Justice, but Republicans on the committee were almost all interested only in FBI Director James Comey’s recent decision not to seek a prosecution of the former secretary of state over her unusual email setup.
Republicans had little success getting Lynch to offer any more detail than Comey did in nearly five hours of testimony last week. Lynch often referred questions back to that testimony, and declined to speak with any great specificity on her own role beyond repeating that she had announced she would accept the recommendation of Comey and the career investigators on the case, which she did.
Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) told Lynch that Comey’s decision was “uniquely troubling,” and as the hearing progressed, he scolded Lynch for “an abdication of [her] responsibility” because he and other Republicans did not think she was sufficiently forthcoming in her answers.
That prompted some to take a walk down memory lane to the ‘90s, when the Republican-led House voted to impeach President Bill Clinton over the Lewinsky affair.
“I couldn’t help being reminded when the whole thing ― especially over the last week ― of something that I was involved in, in this very committee 18 years ago,” a frustrated Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) told Lynch. “At the time it was Hillary Clinton’s husband, Bill Clinton who was in trouble. He was accused of sexually harassing a number of women and then he lied under oath about it. Committed perjury.”
“A young intern came forward that was working under him at the White House, and she had physical proof. He denied it, but there was physical proof. I won’t go into exactly what that was, but there was proof about that,” said Chabot, who was one of the 13 House members who unsuccessfully prosecuted the impeachment in the Senate.
His point was that he didn’t think Bill Clinton got the same treatment as another American would have, and he thought it was happening again with Hillary Clinton. “I think it’s a travesty,” Chabot said.
In his testimony last week, Comey was explicit in arguing that Hillary Clinton’s email case was in fact different from any of the other cases of people who mishandled classified information, in particular because he and others at the FBI did not think they could prove Clinton intended to mishandle classified information.
Chabot wasn’t alone in his reminiscences, however. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) also found the two-decade-old case against Bill Clinton relevant.
“Do you find it ironic that the last examination of a Clinton in this room, the previous one, Bill Clinton, excuse me, before the Judiciary Committee, hinged on the meaning of the word ‘is,’” said Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), referring to the then-president’s infamous answer to a grand jury.
“It looks like this investigation is hinging upon the meaning of ‘extreme carelessness’ versus ‘gross negligence,’” King told Lynch.
Comey said Clinton was extremely careless, but that was not the same as “gross negligence,” which is the legal standard specified in one of the espionage laws under which Clinton could have faced prosecution.
Lynch again declined to get into specifics, referring to Comey’s explanation.
Democrats spent most of the hearing asking about gun violence and the recent police-involved shootings, but a few were moved to comment on the Republicans’ persistent line of questioning.
“I get a sense that really we are in this political season and there is so much disappointment on the Republican side in the country that they couldn’t obviate the election through the legal process,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.).
“They bring back 20-year-old, salacious accusations,” said Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.). “I think we’ve reached a low point on this committee because we’re talking about these things at at the same moment that Americans are focused on the out-of-control gun violence in this country.”
Republicans did not feel chastened by Democrats, however, and went on to impugn the attorney general’s appearance before the committee.
Rep. Ron DeSantis (Fla.) called it a “hear-no-evil, see-no-evil performance.”
Rep. Trent Franks (Ariz.) was even more blunt.
“I can see where this is going,” Franks told Lynch. “Consequently I’m going to simply capitulate to your prodigious dissimulation skills.”
He went on to accuse her of an “abrogation” of her responsibilities for not overruling Comey. “There are few things that break faith with America and the American people and undermine their trust in their government more than witnessing the highest law enforcement officer in the land blatantly ignoring the crystal clear meaning and equal protection and equal enforcement of the laws as they are written,” Franks said, disregarding the assessment of Comey and career prosecutors that Clinton could not have been prosecuted.