How Not To Ask a Question: The Capehart-Lynch Interview Relating to the Bill Clinton-Loretta Lynch Meeting and to the FBI’s Hillary Clinton Investigation

I’m assuming we all saw the recent interview of Loretta Lynch by a fawning and laughing Jonathan Capehart regarding the recent visit between Lynch and former President Bill Clinton on Lynch’s airplane in Phoenix. The problem was Capehart: didn’t frame his questions with precision, didn’t carefully listen to the answers and follow up on obvious gaps, and let General Lynch change the subject throughout the interview.
I don’t have a dog in this fight. I can’t stand Trump for the obvious reasons and I believe Hillary Clinton has (alas, successfully) played the public for fools with her continuing and outlandish evasiveness (“What, wipe the server, like with a cloth?”) and perhaps outright lies both now and throughout her public life. My point here is simply to look at how Capehart, perhaps in full good faith, presented himself as getting to the bottom of the matter but in reality left holes big enough to drive a truck through. What new facts did he elicit? None that I can see.

“What Were You Thinking?”

First, he deserves credit by trying to go to the heart of matter right off the bat but he did so in the manner of a late-night TV comedian, letting us, the audience, er, public, know he really was on her side but had to raise the issue. Then he asked her two questions at the same time (“What were you thinking?” “What happened?”), allowing her to say anything she wanted and it would be unclear what question she was answering. Ably, General Lynch went into a monologue about how “that” (what, precisely?) was the question and then redefined the so-called question into one she wanted to answer, what her role was and would be in the Clinton investigation. She totally evaded Capehart’s questions and Capehart made no attempt to follow up.
• What was she thinking? She didn’t answer this at all.
• What did happen? Likewise, she completely evaded this question.

“What Did Happen?”

Think this through with me. How does anyone, even a former president of the United States, simply appear in the cabin office of the plane carrying the Attorney General? Someone on Clinton’s staff had to call someone on Lynch’s staff? What was said by each? What was conveyed to Lynch? What did she say? What was she thinking? Even if we accept the (implausible) implication of the Hillary campaign that there was no phone call but Bill just somehow appeared at the airplane, at least at that point someone had to advise Lynch and she had to say something. Again, What did she say? What was she thinking? She did say she wouldn’t do it again but how many people have said that to federal prosecutors only to be shot down with, “You’re only sorry you got caught” and no sympathy.

“Primarily Social”

In other statements, Lynch had said the meeting was primarily social—chitchat about grandchildren, travels, the usual sort of discussion one might expect between the nation’s top law enforcer to whom the FBI reports and the ultra-prominent husband of a politician under active investigation by that very FBI. OK, let’s accept that the meeting was primarily chitchat and that, at the time, she saw nothing wrong with having it. Still, primarily. Thus, she admitted part of the meeting was much more than social chitchat. What was that part of the meeting about?

“That’s The Question”

Not only did Capehart not even try to keep the focus on his questions, he gushed in Lynch’s praise of him for asking “the” question while she came nowhere near answering it and he then allowed her to take off on how she took her work seriously and was “pained” that her meeting had “cast a shadow over how people are going to view that work”—whatever that was supposed to mean. That certainly sounds pious but means absolutely nothing.

“I Fully Expect to Accept Their Recommendations”

Lynch said that the team of career FBI agents and Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutors would make findings and recommendations to her and that she “fully expected” to accept the recommendations. Later, she said that she had already decided “Findings” are the government’s conclusions as to the facts and “recommendations” are what the government should do about those facts, specifically if it will indict someone and if so, whom? A certain HRC perchance? Capehart never pressed General Lynch on precisely what she was saying. Was she saying she wouldn’t be involved regarding a decision of the facts, the findings? Was she saying she wouldn’t be involved regarding a decision on the recommendations? Or was she signaling that she didn’t “expect” to be involved in a decision on the recommendations but that, well, you know, anything could happen. Capehart completely failed to “spot” this issue, as they say regarding law school exams, let alone get a specific answer from the Attorney General.
General Lynch certainly tried to create the impression, and succeeded in doing so, that she would not be involved in either the findings or the recommendations. But she did not precisely say that. There’s plenty of wiggle room for her to backtrack later.

Recusal?

Finally, many commentators have explained that the DOJ has very specific rules requiring “recusal”—completely bowing out of a case, including not making decisions on either findings or recommendations—if a DOJ official has personal dealings with the subject of an investigation, or a family member of the subject of an investigation. If General Lynch really was saying she would accept the findings and recommendations of the FBI and DOJ, then why would she not recuse herself? Capehart again never spotted this issue, let alone pushed General Lynch to deal with it.
All in all, I think we’re back where we started before the now famous interview.

About johnwagner

John Wagner is a retired lawyer and the author of:
1. Troubled Mission: Fighting For Love, Spirituality, and Human Rights in Violence-Ridden Peru, a memoir about his human rights work in Peru
2. Baby Boomer Army Brat, a coming-of-age memoir

One thought on “How Not To Ask a Question: The Capehart-Lynch Interview Relating to the Bill Clinton-Loretta Lynch Meeting and to the FBI’s Hillary Clinton Investigation

  1. Once again you have the incisiveness and clear thinking to put into words the feelings and thoughts that I had about the interview .
    I’m glad you have more faith in the American public than Capehart does. We are not all cabbage heads willing to soak up all the fertilizer he is spreading.

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