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Loretta Lynch, Bill Clinton meeting raises eyebrows

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Loretta Lynchfaced continuing questions Thursday related to an awkward encounter with former president Bill Clinton after the two crossed paths Monday at Phoenix's Sky Harbor International Airport.

Lynch, who will ultimately determine the outcome of an ongoing investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of private email server while secretary of state, was arriving in the city in advance of a community policing event as Clinton was departing when the former president relayed through a security detail that he would like to say hello.

Lynch, during a later meeting with reporters, acknowledged the meeting with Bill Clinton but said there was no discussion of the investigation involving his wife, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, or the congressional report that examined her response to the deadly 2012 Benghazi attacks.

Bill Clinton at the 2015 CGI Annual Meeting in New York.
Adam Jeffery | CNBC
Bill Clinton at the 2015 CGI Annual Meeting in New York.

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 told reporters. "Our conversation was a great deal about his grandchildren. It was primarily social and about our travels.''

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Lynch said the two also discussed Janet Reno, who served as attorney general during the Clinton administration, "but there was no discussion of any matter pending for the department or any matter pending for any other body.''

"There was no discussion of Benghazi, no discussion of the State Department emails, by way of example,'' she said. "I would say the current news of the day was the Brexit decision, and what that might mean. And again, the department's not involved in that or implicated in that.''

Asked whether the meeting created the appearance of a conflict, Lynch said the email inquiry is "being handled by career investigators and career agents who always follow facts and the law and do the same thorough and independent examination in this matter that they've done.''

The impromptu session, however, was drawing criticism from both Democrats and Republicans, including presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.

"It is an amazing thing,'' Trump told radio host Michael Gallagher. "They actually went on to the plane as I understand it. That's terrible. And it was really a sneak. It was really something that they didn't want publicized as I understand it ... I think it's so horrible."

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, first expressed his concern via Twitter, raising the issue that there could be a potential conflict of interest.

"An attorney cannot represent two parties in a dispute and must avoid even the appearance of conflict,'' said the senator, who later issued a statement calling on Lynch to recuse herself from the email investigation and appoint a special counsel to oversee the inquiry.

David Axelrod, a former political strategist for President Obama, also took to Twitter, saying that while he trusted that the two did not address the ongoing email inquiry, it was "foolish to create such optics.''

White House press secretary Josh Earnest, meanwhile, said Thursday that Lynch had adequately addressed questions about the meeting.

"I think the bottom line is simply that both the president and the attorney general understand how important it is for the Department of Justice to conduct investigations that are free of political interference,'' Earnest said. "She certainly understands the investigations should be conducted free of political interference and consistent with the facts."

Lynch was continuing her travels Thursday in California.

Contributing: Gregory Korte and David Jackson