A private conversation between Bill Clinton and U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Monday, amid an ongoing FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private e-mail server, sparked rebukes from Republicans and concern among some Democrats about the perceptions it created.
Late Thursday, the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch requested that the U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General investigate the meeting.
"Attorney General Lynch’s meeting with President Clinton creates the appearance of a violation of law, ethical standards and good judgment," the group said in a statement. "Attorney General Lynch’s decision to breach the well-defined ethical standards of the Department of Justice and the American legal profession is an outrageous abuse of the public’s trust.
"Her conduct and statements undermine confidence in her ability to objectively investigate and prosecute possible violations of law associated with President Clinton and Secretary Clinton. This incident undermines the public’s faith in the fair administration of justice. Simply stated, Attorney General Lynch’s June 29, 2016 meeting with former President Clinton creates the broad public impression that 'the fix is in.'"
The White House faced questions Thursday about whether the administration approved of the meeting, described by Lynch as an impromptu encounter, and whether it might undermine public confidence into the e-mail investigation, which has been a persistent drag on Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Lynch has been forthcoming about the meeting with the former president at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix and that he wouldn't "second guess'' the attorney general's handling of the case.
"She certainly understands that investigations should be conducted free of political interference and consistent with the facts," Earnest told reporters on Thursday.
Lynch said there was "no discussion'' of the FBI's investigation or any matter before the Justice Department.
"When I was landing at the airport, I did see president Clinton at the Phoenix airport as I was leaving and he spoke to myself and my husband on the plane,'' Lynch said at a news conference Wednesday in Phoenix carried by ABC15 . "Our conversation was a great deal about his grandchildren. It was primarily social and about our travels. He mentioned the golf he played in Phoenix.''
The FBI is investigating whether classified material was mishandled through Hillary Clinton's use of a private server for her personal and governmental communication while she was secretary of state during President Barack Obama's first term. The server set-up, which Clinton has said was a mistake, has provided a frequent attack line for her critics as she runs for president, including presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump.
Trump blasted the meeting as poor judgment on the part of Lynch and Bill Clinton.
"It was really a sneak. It was really something that they didn’t want publicized, as I understand it," Trump said Thursday on the Mike Gallagher radio show. "I just think it’s so terrible, I think it’s so horrible.''
Texas Senator John Cornyn, the second-ranking Republican in the chamber, said the incident warrants the appointment of a special prosecutor to continue the investigation into Clinton's use of e-mail.
"In light of the apparent conflicts of interest, I have called repeatedly on Attorney General Lynch to appoint a Special Counsel to ensure the investigation is as far from politics as possible," Cornyn said in a statement. "This incident does nothing to instill confidence in the American people that her department can fully and fairly conduct this investigation, and that's why a Special Counsel is needed now more than ever."
David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to Obama, said on Twitter that it was "foolish to create such optics."
Senator Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat and Clinton supporter, said on CNN Thursday that he is confident in Lynch but that the meeting "sends the wrong signal."