President Trump’s defenders have found a creative way to go on offense: arguing former Attorney General Loretta Lynch is the real obstructionist, far guiltier than Trump could ever be and more deserving of the special counsel treatment.
The assertion has percolated through conservative media since Comey’s blockbuster testimony, and now the president himself seems to share it, tweeting an oblique criticism of Lynch on Thursday afternoon.
“Crooked H destroyed phones w/ hammer, ‘bleached’ emails, & had husband meet w/AG days before she was cleared- & they talk about obstruction?” he wrote.
Though the argument is becoming a key part of the Team Trump messaging plan, it’s on shaky legal footing, at best.
“There’s just not much there,” said Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor, of the publicly available information about Lynch’s conduct during the campaign. “And it doesn’t have anything to do with today’s news.”
This counterattack didn’t come in a vacuum. In the days and weeks prior, conservative media figures—notably longtime Trump family friend and Fox News host Jeanine Pirro—called for an investigation into the former attorney general, based in part on Comey’s revelation that she told him to refer to the Clinton email probe as a “matter,” rather than an investigation. Newt Gingrich has called for Lynch to be subpoenaed, and a June 10 Fox & Friends segment, weekend host Pete Hegseth said Comey’s comment on Lynch was the only “smoking gun” to come out of the hearing.
The Republican National Committee made the Lynch push-back the center of its crisis-communications response to The Washington Post’s report that Trump is under investigation for obstruction of justice.
“Why is no one investigating Attorney General Lynch’s Department of Justice for obstruction of justice in the Clinton email investigation?” read one of the talking points. “The reality is former Director Comey suggests the president tried to influence the FBI. But, he openly admitted that Attorney General Loretta Lynch successfully influenced him. There is compelling evidence to back up the claim that AG Lynch engaged in obstruction of justice, but none to show that President Trump did so.”
The RNC’s assertion—that there’s “compelling evidence” to defend the claim that Lynch interfered with an investigation—isn’t true, according to Mariotti. While the publicly available information makes Lynch look unwise for meeting with former President Bill Clinton on an airport tarmac while the investigation was underway, that meeting itself isn’t obstruction, he said. Neither is Lynch’s direction that Comey say “matter” instead of “investigation.”
There are no public indicators Lynch is being investigated. Any investigation would be overseen by Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, since it would relate to the 2016 presidential election, and so would fall within the scope of Sessions’ recusal. Lynch didn’t comment for this story.
“It’s a little silly,” said Matt Miller, who was a Justice Department spokesman during Eric Holder’s time there. “It’s not a little silly—it’s a lot silly.”
“Even under Comey’s explanation of what happened, which I’m not sure Lynch would not dispute, it’s not obstruction of justice,” he continued. “It’s a fight over how you describe the investigation publicly. It has nothing to do with how you conduct the investigation.”
“Who cares about Loretta Lynch?” he added. “I mean, honestly, she’s not the attorney general anymore, and who cares?”
Rhetorical questions aside, plenty of conservatives do care. Tom Fitton, who heads the group Judicial Watch—which played a key role in securing the release of many of Hillary Clinton’s emails—said that if Trump is being investigated, Lynch should be investigated too.
“By the standards of which the president’s now investigated, Lynch ought to be subject to the same scrutiny,” he told The Daily Beast.
“We have this absurd investigation into President Trump,” he added. “Certainly there’s much more substantive reasons to investigate Lynch and Comey over potential obstruction of justice while they were handling Hillary Clinton investigation.”
And David Rivkin, a Constitutional lawyer and former Justice Department official, told The Daily Beast that from a Constitutional perspective, Lynch could be in more trouble than Trump. He argued that since Trump heads the executive branch which includes the Justice Department, he himself couldn't be charged with obstruction of justice.
“I happen to think that this investigation is ill-advised because no matter what the facts are, the charge would not stand,” Rivkin said. “In her case, the charge may stand depending what the facts are. Of course it should be investigated.”
Hans von Spakovsky of the conservative Heritage Foundation, however, was skeptical that a serious prosecutor would go after the former attorney general. He said that in both the cases of Trump and Lynch, based on public knowledge, obstruction charges would be extremely long shots.
“Look, based on what we know, assuming that what Comey has said is true, neither Donald Trump nor Loretta Lynch could be charged with obstruction of justice,” he said. “And I think any prosecutor who tried to do that ought to be drummed out of office.”
That hasn’t stopped Trump loyalists from using Lynch’s not-yet-alleged crimes as a way to change the conversation topic away from Trump. In a Fox News website opinion piece, Hannity said Comey’s comments on Lynch were the most important part of his testimony.
“[T]he biggest news out of Comey’s testimony was the indictment of the Obama administration and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch,” he wrote. “Comey admitted that Lynch was able to pressure him into toning down his own language when speaking publicly about Hillary Clinton’s email investigation. Wow!”
It’s might dazzle Hannity. But it’s unlikely any federal prosecutors will be so wowed.