James Comey's communications with President Trump may have been the focus of the Thursday Senate hearing, but the former FBI director also talked at length about another interesting exchange he had. Speaking about Hillary Clinton email controversy, Comey said former attorney general Loretta Lynch's insistence on labeling the Clinton probe a "matter" instead of an investigation made him "queasy."
Clinton's email scandal was sure to come up in Comey's Thursday hearing. He told the committee that Lynch had instructed him on the email investigation, which he found perplexing. "At one point, the attorney general had directed me not to call it an investigation but instead to call it a matter, which confused me and concerned me," Comey said. "That was one of the bricks in the load that led me to conclude I have to step away from the department if we're to close this case credibly."
He told the committee that the meeting between Bill Clinton and Lynch on tarmac of the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport last summer was what led his decision to make public the agency reopening its investigation into the former secretary of state's email. The impromptu run-in sparked controversy, but Lynch claimed that it was a "social meeting" and that "[Bill Clinton] spoke to my husband for some time on the plane, and then we moved on."
Comey's blunt remarks about Lynch aren't surprising, considering his reputation for not picking sides. Earlier this year, he cemented his image as a decidedly neutral party while responding to questions about FBI's inquiries regarding both Clinton and Donald Trump. Comey notably said that the agency does not care "whose ox will be gored by this action or that action, whose fortunes will be helped by this or that. We just don’t care."
Explaining his decision to go public, Comey said that it felt "silly" to not bring up the conclusion for the Clinton email investigation in front of the American audience as both Democrats and Republicans were broaching the contentious and perennial subject. Comey expressed concern and claimed that the Clinton campaign resorted to deploying "euphemisms" — such as "matter" — to describe the email investigation. In spite of Comey disagreeing with Lynch's request to use her "matter" descriptor, he said that he decided to move on. "I said [to myself], this isn't a hill worth dying on," Comey explained.
It came down to Comey discomfort with the term "matter," which he deemed was "inaccurate." According to Comey, it did not align with his understanding of the case as it was an open criminal investigation under the FBI. "And so that," Comey said, "gave me a queasy feeling."