PHOENIX — A private 2016 meeting between former Attorney General Loretta Lynch and former President Bill Clinton on a tarmac at a Phoenix airport may have been the beginning of the end for former FBI Director James Comey, who was fired this week.
Comey said the meeting at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport — which an aide later said materialized when the pair realized they were in the same place — caused him to doubt the Department of Justice.
The meeting happened one day before Lynch’s department was set to release the results of an investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s actions in regard to the Benghazi attack in 2012.
“A number of things had gone on which I can’t talk about yet, that made me worry that the department leadership could not credibly complete the investigation and decline prosecution without grievous damage to the American people’s confidence in the justice system,” Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month.
But that may have been the moment Comey’s time as head of the FBI began circling the drain. Former FBI agent Steven Hooper said Comey was in a pickle after that meeting: Allow a possibly biased Department of Justice to carry out more investigations or have his agency conduct its own.
“He had to make a decision,” Hooper told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Bruce St. James and Pamela Hughes on Wednesday. “Obviously, the decision he made has come back to haunt him.”
That decision was made clearer after Lynch said she would defer to the FBI’s findings in its investigation of a private email server used by Hillary Clinton during her time as secretary of state.
Hooper said that move was unprecedented because the FBI is the investigative arm of the government. By deferring to the FBI, Lynch made the agency a de facto prosecutor.
“That set off a process that was unheard of,” he said. “You don’t defer to the FBI for prosecution.”
As the leader of the FBI, the spotlight in the case shifted to Comey. He testified numerous times in Congress — as several directors have, historically — about the investigation, though he later altered what he said.
“To take it a step further and go out there and put information out about an investigation – to get up behind a podium, to hold a press conference – they feel he stepped outside of the policy side,” Hooper said of the decision to fire the director.
Hooper also said the political climate did not help Comey, whose agency is expected to stay out of politics while still managing Washington, D.C.
“It’s apolitical. It should remain apolitical and that appears to be the undoing of Comey,” Hooper said.
“It’s the sense of the Department of Justice that he did not remain apolitical. He put himself out there.”
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