The big Times story on the Comey coup d’etat contains this striking detail:
Ms. Lynch understood Mr. Comey’s predicament, but not his hurry. In a series of phone calls, her aides told Mr. Comey’s deputies that there was no need to tell Congress anything until agents knew what the emails contained.
Either Ms. Lynch or Ms. Yates could have ordered Mr. Comey not to send the letter, but their aides argued against it. If Ms. Lynch issued the order and Mr. Comey obeyed, she risked the same fate that Mr. Comey feared: accusations of political interference and favoritism by a Democratic attorney general.
If Mr. Comey disregarded her order and sent the letter — a real possibility, her aides thought — it would be an act of insubordination that would force her to consider firing him, aggravating the situation.
This further convinces me that there was nothing Lynch could have done at the time to prevent Comey’s election-tampering. He may well have refused a direct order, and even if he nominally followed it word of the investigation definitely would have leaked out only with an additional “what is Lynch trying to hide?” angle, which would have been even worse.
Lynch did screw up earlier, however, although I primarily blame Bill Clinton:
In late June, Ms. Lynch’s plane touched down at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport as part of her nationwide tour of police departments. Former President Bill Clinton was also in Phoenix that day, leaving from the same tarmac.
Ms. Lynch’s staff loaded into vans, leaving the attorney general and her husband on board. Mr. Clinton’s Secret Service agents mingled with her security team. When the former president learned who was on the plane, his aides say, he asked to say hello.
Mr. Clinton’s aides say he intended only to greet Ms. Lynch as she disembarked. But Ms. Lynch later told colleagues that the message she received — relayed from one security team to another — was that Mr. Clinton wanted to come aboard, and she agreed.
When Ms. Lynch’s staff members noticed Mr. Clinton boarding the plane, a press aide hurriedly called the Justice Department’s communications director, Melanie Newman, who said to break up the meeting immediately. A staff member rushed to stop it, but by the time the conversation ended, Mr. Clinton had been on the plane for about 20 minutes.
The meeting made the local news the next day and was soon the talk of Washington. Ms. Lynch said they had only exchanged pleasantries about golf and grandchildren, but Republicans called for her to recuse herself and appoint a special prosecutor.
Ms. Lynch said she would not step aside but would accept whatever career prosecutors and the F.B.I. recommended on the Clinton case — something she had planned to do all along.
Mr. Comey never suggested that she recuse herself. But at that moment, he knew for sure that when there was something to say about the case, he alone would say it.
It’s telling that Lynch’s staff realized immediately what a terrible idea the meeting was. Lynch should have refused, but she was in an awkward spot. What Clinton was thinking, I can’t begin to imagine, but it was an astonishingly stupid thing to do under the circumstances.
It’s very possible that this blunder was not ultimately consequential. I think Comey’s inappropriate “extremely careless” editorializing was inevitable, and it’s very possible he would have sent the letter that blew up the world no matter what. But Comey is a partisan who is strongly convinced that he is the only Nonpartisan Man of Integrity left (and is also still able to convince credulous reporters that he’s free of partisan motives even as he consistently favors one side, but we’ll leave the for another post.) And as the story makes clear, he is therefore particularly offended when he believes other people have partisan motivations. It’s possible that his insubordinate decision to send the letter was motivated in substantial measure by the Clinton/Lynch meeting. And it was certainly a foolish, no-upside risk. It’s been obvious for a while that Bill Clinton has lost his fastball, but this has to be the worst example.