An unscheduled meeting between the U.S. attorney general and former President Bill Clinton at an airport in Phoenix on Monday could present some unwanted political problems for both.
The former president, who was waiting to depart the state, boarded Loretta Lynch's government aircraft shortly after she landed in Arizona for a community policing event. Lynch later told reporters there the conversation centered on "his grandchildren."
"It was primarily social and about our travels," including golf he played, Lynch said.
The attorney general insisted, "There was no discussion of any matter pending for the department or any matter pending for any other body."
The Justice Department and FBI are investigating the security of Hillary Clinton's private email server, which she used to conduct official business as secretary of state. There's no public sign Hillary Clinton has been interviewed by federal agents, but the matter is growing ever more sensitive, as she prepares to secure the Democratic presidential nomination at her party's convention next month.
Answering a reporter's question about the appearance of impropriety over the unscheduled meeting on the tarmac, Lynch said the State Department email matter is being handled by career agents and prosecutors "who always follow the facts and the law and do the same thorough independent examination in this matter that they've done in all" matters.
Still, word of the meeting could fuel new calls from Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and other congressional Republicans for a special prosecutor outside the Justice Department chain of command to lead the email investigation.
The controversy has trailed Hillary Clinton for more than a year. She has said the use of a private server was a mistake. But her closest aides have been subjected to questioning from federal investigators and conservative watchdogs like Judicial Watch.
Just this week, Huma Abedin, Clinton's former deputy chief of staff and now a key campaign operative, told Judicial Watch lawyers she didn't recall talks with State Department officials about Clinton's server arrangement.
Abedin added in the deposition that "it wasn't a secret that [Clinton] was using this email address to be communicating with U.S. government officials, because they were receiving emails from her."
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
So it may have just been a friendly hello at the airport. Whatever it was could cause some political problems for Hillary Clinton. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and former President Bill Clinton had this unscheduled chat, and let's chat about it with NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson, who's on the line. Hey, Carrie.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Good morning, David.
GREENE: So what exactly happened here?
JOHNSON: So this happened Monday on the tarmac of the airport in Phoenix. The attorney general says her plane was landing for a community policing event there. And Bill Clinton, apparently, was waiting to take off. He came by just to say hi.
GREENE: All right, so what's wrong with that?
JOHNSON: Well, there's a big appearance problem, David. The Justice Department and the FBI are investigating Hillary Clinton for using a private email server to conduct official business when she was secretary of state. That server was located in the Clinton family home.
GREENE: But the attorney general's being pretty clear that the investigation, Hillary Clinton's emails - none of this came up in this conversation, right?
JOHNSON: Yeah, Loretta Lynch insists this was purely a social call. She and Bill Clinton apparently talked about his grandchildren, his golf game. She says nothing about email, nothing about Benghazi came up. And she says independent FBI agents and prosecutors are handling this email investigation, and they are following the facts and the law, not politics.
GREENE: OK, so this really - it could - even if this was just a casual conversation, it could really play into an argument that Republicans in Congress have have been making - I mean, trying to raise alarms about whether Loretta Lynch's Justice Department can really be impartial in these investigations.
JOHNSON: Absolutely. And word of this meeting is surely going to breathe new life into calls by people in Congress, like Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn, for a special prosecutor to take over here, arguing that the Justice Department can't investigate the presumptive Democratic nominee for the president. The timing here could not be worse for Hillary Clinton, of course. The Democratic National Convention is next month. Clinton says she has nothing to worry about from this investigation. But surely this meeting - this impromptu meeting between her husband and the attorney general in Phoenix earlier this week is going to raise a new set of questions that she's going to have to answer on the campaign trail.
GREENE: And in terms of a timetable for these investigations from the Justice Department, we don't know much at all. Is that - is that right?
JOHNSON: No, both the attorney general and the FBI director, James Comey, have said they want this investigation to be done promptly, but they also want it to be done thoroughly. Both of them, even though they say they're operating aside from politics, understand the political calendar here, David. There's a very sensitive investigation going on involving the Democratic presumptive nominee for the White House. And they want to wrap this up as soon as they can.
GREENE: OK. We've been talking to NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Carrie, thanks, as always.
JOHNSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.