Does a Clinton probe need independent investigators?

A top Republican senator has asked for a Justice Department watchdog to independently look into any conflicts of interests in Hillary Clinton investigations. 

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
Sen. Charles Grassley (R) of Iowa speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington in September 2016. The chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee has called on the Justice Department's independent watchdog to investigate the investigations of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

The chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee wants an independent watchdog to oversee the investigation into Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton because he is concerned about a “conflict of interest” between her and Justice Department officials.

"The American people deserve to know whether political considerations have improperly affected the handling of this inquiry and understand why key officials failed to recuse themselves to protect the public’s confidence in a fair and impartial inquiry based on merits and the evidence rather than on politics," wrote Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) of Iowa in a letter to Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz on Wednesday. "An independent, objective, non-partisan review is vital."

In the letter, Mr. Grassley raises the ties the Clintons have throughout the Justice Department and much of Washington. The Clintons’ critics have seized on these relationships in the past, claiming they have led to a thin investigation into her use of a private server. As the FBI resumes its probe into Clinton, could an independent review be a solution to assuring Clinton’s opponents and the public any investigation is fair and honest?

In his letter, Grassley cites a number of conflicts he sees. One is US Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s history with the Clintons. Former President Bill Clinton appointed her to the top DOJ post. She was also a partner at a law firm that represented both Clintons. The letter also cites Ms. Lynch’s tarmac meeting with Bill Clinton at an Arizona airport on June 30. The impromptu meeting occurred days before the FBI announced it would not recommend charges against Mrs. Clinton. While Lynch said the two just discussed grandkids and golf, The Christian Science Monitor’s Peter Grier predicted it would provide fodder to her critics.

"Some of her opponents will charge that she’s escaped prosecution due to cover-up," writes Mr. Grier. "Oh sure, Lynch has now said she’ll defer to the decision of her career prosecutors. But don’t you think they already know what she wants? That’s what critics will say. After all, she met with Bill Clinton in a private tête-à-tête!"

Grassley also raises concern about Peter Kadzik, the Justice Department’s top congressional liaison. According to a WikiLeaks documents published Wednesday, Mr. Kadzik appears to have given the Clinton campaign chair John Podesta a heads up in May 2015 that the House Judicial Committee would likely question a Justice Department official on State Department emails. Kadzik represented Mr. Podesta during the Clinton-Monica Lewinsky investigation, and lobbied for Podesta for Bill Clinton to pardon convicted tax evader Marc Rich, according to Politico.

The letter also raises concerns about Andrew McCabe, the deputy director of the FBI, and the immunity Grassley said the Justice Department gave Clinton aides for cooperation.

After a yearlong investigation, the FBI closed in July its inquiry into whether Clinton sent or received classified information through a private server in the basement of her New York home. The server was not authorized to handle such emails. Throughout the investigation and afterwards, Clinton’s critics have cried foul at an unfair and corrupt investigation into Clinton, with her opponent Donald Trump leading chants such as "lock her up."

The Justice Department previously denied it has coordinated with the Clinton campaign. But John Kirby, a Justice Department spokesman, said there are times when the department needs to reach former officials to ensure department statements are accurate, according to The Washington Times.

The Justice Department isn’t the only agency that has faced criticism for how it has handled the Clinton probe. FBI Director James Comey is under fire from Democrats for a report he released 11 days before the election that the department has reopened an investigation into Clinton. The probe was prompted by the bureau’s discovery of emails related to Clinton on the device of a Clinton campaign aide, Huma Abedin.

Although the Obama administration had originally remained impartial to Mr. Comey’s actions, the president criticized the FBI director on Wednesday.

"We don’t operate on incomplete information," the president said in a radio interview with "NowThis News," indicating Comey was being unfair to Clinton. "We don’t operate on leaks. We operate based on concrete decisions that are made."

But a Comey adviser told CNN last night there is nothing the FBI director could have done that wouldn’t have had political fallout.

"He opted for transparency," said Daniel Richman, a Columbia University law professor, told "Anderson Cooper 360."

Meanwhile, another top Republican has vowed to continue to investigate Clinton after the election. Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chair of the House Oversight Committee, recently told The Washington Post Republicans are preparing for a drawn-out investigation into the Democratic presidential candidate.

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