The idea that Loretta Lynch would stay on as attorney general in a Hillary Clinton administration is not a new one. Lynch took over relatively late in President Obama's two terms as president — April 2015, after Eric H. Holder's run as one of the longest-serving attorneys general in history — giving her less than two years on the job come January. And before last week, she had earned generally positive reviews, even becoming the favorite of some to be Obama's nominee to replace Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. (She later withdrew from consideration.)
But this line, from deep inside a New York Times report over the holiday weekend, comes at a particularly poor time for Lynch — and, by extension, the Clinton campaign:
Having women make up half of [Clinton's] cabinet would be historic (in recent years, a quarter to a third of cabinet positions have been held by women), and Democrats close to Mrs. Clinton say she may decide to retain Ms. Lynch, the nation’s first black woman to be attorney general, who took office in April 2015.
It's not clear whether that speculation came before or after Lynch's private tarmac meeting with former president Bill Clinton last week. But even if that meeting had never happened, raising all kinds of chatter about the appearance of impropriety: Lynch remains the person responsible for reviewing and signing off on the investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server as secretary of state.
Clinton, herself, spoke with investigators Saturday for three and a half hours.
Even Democrats acknowledged the tarmac meeting was a bad idea, and Lynch and Bill Clinton have both said they wouldn't do it again. Acknowledging the "shadow" the meeting has cast over the investigation, Lynch now says she will accept whatever the investigators' recommendations are.
And yet, here are anonymous "Democrats close to Mrs. Clinton" sending out what could be interpreted as a trial balloon, saying that the subject of her department's investigation may, come January 2017, allow Lynch to continue to her job.
However likely that was before news broke of Bill Clinton's meeting with Lynch, it certainly appears less likely now. Should the investigation lead to a slap on the wrist (or less) for Hillary Clinton, renominating Lynch as attorney general risks looking like Clinton returning the favor. Should the investigation come down hard on Clinton, Lynch's decision to sign off on it might not be greatly appreciated by Clintonworld — which, after all, is big on loyalty.
Either way, though, it's a possibility that the Clinton campaign would probably rather not deal with right now. And yet, there it is.
It's worth noting here that the lengthy New York Times piece is not all about Lynch and Clinton. Clocking in at more than 1,800 words, it's a deep dive into what a Clinton presidency would look like — a piece of which is whom she might appoint to her Cabinet and how many women could be a part of it (half, according to the Times' Patrick Healy).
Its length also suggests it's something that was being reported before the furor over Bill Clinton's meeting with Lynch erupted. And again, this is not something that these "Democrats close to Mrs. Clinton" are inventing whole cloth. Here's the conservative National Review in March:
Loretta Lynch, who said in her confirmation hearings that she supports the Democratic president’s lawless executive actions and non-enforcement of federal law. Loretta Lynch, who very much likes being attorney general of the United States and would be well positioned to continue in that powerful post in a Hillary Clinton administration.
And the Hill in February:
If Clinton becomes the next president, however, Lynch may be asked to stay on, at least for a short time.
Even just a week ago, during my weekly Ask Aaron live chat with Fix readers (Tuesdays at noon!) and before the tarmac meeting took place, Lynch was the one potential holdover I could conjure in response to a reader question about which Cabinet members might be asked to stay on in a Clinton administration.
But the timing of the Times report could hardly be worse for Clinton. The prospect of a Lynch renomination may or may not have had some upside for the campaign before news of the tarmac meeting. As of now, it's solid downside.