Attorney General Loretta Lynch indicated Wednesday that the law doesn't require the Justice Department to pursue criminal charges against Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email system, even if the FBI recommends criminal charges.
Lynch was asked in a hearing by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, what her department would do if the FBI were to recommend that step. "If the FBI were to make a referral to the Department of Justice to pursue a case by way of indictment and to convene a grand jury for that purpose, the Department of Justice is not required by law to do so, are they — are you?" Cornyn asked.
Lynch didn't answer directly, but seemed to indicate the department has some wiggle room, and can consult with officials before deciding what to do.
"It would not be an operation of law, it would be an operation of procedures," Lynch said in reply. She added that the decision to pursue a criminal case would be "done in conjunction with the agents" involved in the investigation. "It's not something that we would want to cut them out of the process."
Republicans have been pushing for charges against Clinton, but at the same time, many have predicted that the Obama administration would never allow the Justice Department to bring charges against Clinton for including classified and top secret information on her personal emails. Some Republican presidential candidates, including Donald Trump, have said Clinton is desperately hoping to win the White House in order to avoid the criminal charges that could be brought under a Republican administration.
Lynch also dodged questions about the decision to grant immunity to a former staffer of Hillary Clinton at the State Department who helped her set up her own private email system at home.
Cornyn pressed Lynch on the Justice Department's role in reportedly granting immunity to Bryan Pagliano, a former Clinton staffer involved in the set-up of her "homebrew" email server.
"If in fact this was immunity granted by a court, that had to be done under the auspices and with the approval of the Department of Justice, which you head," Cornyn said to Lynch.
But Lynch declined to talk about that part of the case.
"We don't discuss the specifics of any ongoing investigation," Lynch said. "With respect to the procedure relating to any specific witness, I would not be able to comment."
"With respect to Mr. Pagliano or anyone who has been identified as a potential witness in any case, I'm not able to comment on the specifics," Lynch added.
Later on in response to a question from Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Lynch said she has never discussed the Clinton email investigation with Present Obama, spokesman Josh Earnest or anyone else at the White House. Graham asked that question in order to ask how Earnest would have any information about the case that he would use to downplay its importance.
"It's my hope, when it comes to ongoing investigations, that we all would stay silent," she said.