WASHINGTON (CN) — A partisan storm erupted in the House on Tuesday as Republicans refused to let a recent series of violent tragedies waylay their plans to interrogate Attorney General Loretta Lynch about Hillary Clinton’s emails.
“We’re hearing about emails,” complained Rep. Hakeen Jeffries. “Not the gun-violence epidemic. Not the explosion of mass shootings, or the tense relationships of police and communities of color.”
A Democrat who represents Brooklyn, New York, Jeffries rebuked lawmakers this afternoon as the House Judiciary Committee hearing wrapped up after five hours.
“This is not a legitimate oversight hearing … designed to try and find public policy solutions for the American people,” he said. “It’s a reckless legislative joy ride designed to crash and burn. It’s a sham. The American people … deserve better.”
Just a week has passed since the FBI recommended that Clinton not face charges for her “extremely careless” handling of classified emails as secretary of state.
The first shooting to eclipse that news happened that same day, July 5, as bystander footage went viral, showing white police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, kill Alton Sterling while the 37-year-old black man was pinned to the ground.
On July 6, hours after Attorney General Lynch formally closed the Clinton investigation, a woman in Minnesota streamed the death 32-year-old Philando Castile after a police officer shot him to death in a traffic stop.
FBI Director James Comey defended his decision in the Clinton case before the House on July 7. That night, a protest in Dallas over the recent shootings ended with a sniper executing five police officers.
As House Republicans tried to grill Lynch on Clinton’s emails today, the committee’s ranking Democratic member reminded lawmakers that just three working days remain before Congress retires for a seven-week summer recess.
“Over the past week, we saw the same sad themes play out,” said Rep. John Conyers Jr. “It is more critical than ever that we reach a final agreement on police accountability and standards.”
Conyers noted that the nation stands “on the precipice of policing-reform legislation,” but that the prospective details of that law were not discussed during today’s testimony.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler also inquired about the state of progress being made on the closing of gun-buying loopholes.
Lynch replied that “what has begun, will continue.” For further progress to be made, however, Lynch said the country needs more funding by the U.S. government and more resources to “deal with the inflammation of issues.”
Rep. Zoe Lofgren also attempted to move away from the Clinton email scandal.
“After a year of investigating, and $30 million spent across various agencies [investigating Hillary Clinton] … we’re still beating a dead horse here,” Lofgren said. “There are other things that need attention that we’re not giving attention to.”
Lofgren then shifted focus to another issue: immigration-court reform, and the crisis of serious backlogging that can make a person wait more than 800 days for his day in court.
Assuring Lofgren that the DOJ was keenly aware of the crisis, Lynch said there are approximately 100 new immigration judges in the wings to help ease the backlog.
Republicans reverted back to the topic of Clintons emails at every opportunity, even when the hearing started with a brief moment of silence for Sterling, Castile and the five police officers killed in Dallas.
Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner Jr. pushed Lynch on why she accepted the FBI’s findings.
“I can’t for the life of me figure out the difference between gross negligence and extreme carelessness,” said Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican.
The congressman said there is a “strict liability statute” that the DOJ has applied “over several years in the prosecution of servicemen for doing the exact same thing as what Secretary Clinton did.”
Throughout the hearing, Lynch responded with little variation and repeatedly deferred to director Comey’s final testimony.
“Let me be clear,” Lynch said. “My decision was to accept the recommendation of the team of career agents and seasoned investigators who worked on this, including the FBI director, for over a year.”
Sensenbrenner shot back that Lynch bore a “burden to convince the American public that [there is not] a double standard.”
“You’re not meeting the burden, and how do you plan to change the argument to the American public so that they can be convinced the [FBI’s recommendation] was correct, and you made the right decision [to accept it]?”
Lynch repeated: “I have told you all of the relevant facts were investigated by the entire team. Which again, is composed of career attorneys and experienced investigators, and as I have indicated, I was determined to accept that recommendation.”
Rep. Dave Trott, a Michigan Republican, counted more than 74 times that Lynch used this answer, or nonanswer, as he saw it, over the course of the day.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, called the attorney general’s lack of clarity “stunning.”
The committee is chaired by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican.
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