“All of us have an interest in making sure that our electoral systems are free from interference. It’s part of our democracy. This is a bipartisan issue, and it’s something that is of concern to all Americans.”
That was Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch in her first on-the-record comments about Russian interference in the presidential election.
The Post broke the news over the weekend of a secret CIA assessment that Russia was trying to help President-elect Donald Trump win the White House. And since that story was published, Trump has cast doubt not only on Russia’s involvement but also on the veracity of CIA intelligence.
A flash point in the interference assessment story has been the tension between the CIA and the FBI, which Lynch chalked up to “the interplay of two different systems … based on different platforms of knowledge.” But she said both agencies “will be very careful about the kind of assessment they can make, mainly … because neither agency wants to overstate [the situation].” That being said, Lynch said, “I will stress that the intelligence community has put forth a statement saying that with great confidence we have a view and a belief that the Russian government did try and interfere with the election.”
Like other Obama administration officials I’ve interviewed for the podcast, Lynch did not criticize Trump. So, when I asked her how concerned she was by Trump not availing himself of all the intelligence briefings, the attorney general said, “I leave it to the new administration to determine how they’re going to manage the flow of intelligence and how they’ll handle those issues.”
The “Cape Up” interview with Lynch took place at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) Center in Sterling on Monday after her speech on the spike in hate crimes against Muslim Americans. FBI statistics released last month showed a 67 percent increase from 2014 to 2015 in such crimes. Not since the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks have there been so many anti-Muslim incidents. Lynch travels to Harvey Milk High School and the Stonewall Monument in New York on Tuesday to shine a spotlight on hate crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.
“These incidents — and these statistics — should be of the deepest concern to every American,” Lynch told the ADAMS audience. “Because hate crimes don’t just target individuals. They tear at the fabric of our communities, and they also stain our dearest ideals and our nation’s very soul.”
Lynch talked extensively about the actions and prosecutions undertaken by the Justice Department to safeguard every American’s constitutional rights, including freedom of religion. Her passion for this work was revealed when she veered from her prepared remarks — just as when she talked directly to transgender Americans when announcing actions to protect their rights and dignity by suing North Carolina over its blatantly discriminatory “bathroom” law last May.
Yet stalking Lynch’s every word was the knowledge that come Jan. 20, 2017, she will leave with President Obama. And with her most likely will go her and the president’s commitment to civil rights. Lynch lauded the professionalism and dedication of the Justice Department’s career staff and prosecutors. When I asked whether she could guarantee that the department’s work as the backstop for the protection of civil rights would continue after her departure, her answer bowed to reality while issuing a clarion call to the public and an implicit warning to her successors.
“I can’t speak to what priorities the next administration may set,” Lynch said. “And all I can say is there’s no guarantees in life, except that we have to work for what we want and we have to be committed and we have to keep our voices raised to make sure that people who are in power know that these are important issues, that these are issues where the law does compel a certain result in my opinion and should be used in a certain way.”
Listen to the podcast to hear Lynch’s defense of our nation’s diversity, how she will keep working until the very last minute and why she believes that “the highest public office is that of citizen.”