After Clinton-Lynch Tarmac Meeting, FBI Scrambled to Find and Punish Source, Newly Released Emails Show

After news broke about an airport meeting between former Attorney General Loretta Lynch and former President Bill Clinton in the midst of last year’s presidential campaign, the FBI scrambled to identify the source who leaked details about the encounter and discipline him or her, according to emails released on the FBI website on Friday.

The meeting between Lynch and Clinton took place in June 2016, while the FBI was investigating Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. Bill Clinton boarded Lynch’s plane while it was on the tarmac at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport. The following month, then-FBI Director James Comey announced the bureau would not recommend that the Department of Justice pursue charges in the email probe. Comey has testified before Congress that Lynch asked him to refer to the probe as a “matter,” a request that made him feel “queasy.”

Related: What will Loretta Lynch tell Russia investigators?

The internal emails show that on June 29, 2016, a senior spokeswoman for the Justice Department emailed her counterparts at the FBI to flag articles that were starting to appear about the meeting. In the email, the spokeswoman, Melanie Newman, described the encounter as “a casual, unscheduled meeting.” She provided talking points, which are redacted in the released version.

That same day, multiple FBI officials sent links about the story to Comey, who responded to one email, “Got it, thanks sir.” Also on those email chains were FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, whom President Donald Trump and others have accused of a pro-Clinton bias because his wife received money for a political campaign from entities associated with Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Clinton ally; and Peter Strzok, who was removed from special counsel Robert Mueller’s team because of text messages critical of Trump. Strzok oversaw the Clinton email investigation.

But after Observer published an article containing additional details about the encounter, citing an anonymous “security source” who had been present, the FBI and Justice Department moved from damage control to discussions about identifying the source and punishing that person, the emails show. At the time, the publisher of Observer was Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law and one of his senior advisers.

12_15_Lynch_Clinton_meeting On December 15, the FBI released documents related to the so-called tarmac meeting in Phoenix between former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, pictured here on June 20, and former President Bill Clinton. Spencer Platt/Getty

On July 2, a person whose name is redacted in the FBI release wrote to a bureau employee about the Observer article. The employee, whose name is also redacted, responded, “I agree with your assessment about the source, which in reading the article, I believe was one of the local PD officer [sic] assisting with one of the two motorcade [sic] there on the Tarmac. Either way, they should have never offered any type of opinion or details of what did or didn’t happen, as this is the most principle and basic tenant of executive protection.”

The FBI employee added, “Unfortunately, this article is a breach in security protocol and I am addressing it with the Phoenix division to make certain that they pursuit [sic] this and identify the source of the breach.”

The next day, an undisclosed FBI employee, presumably the same person from the earlier email, wrote to several colleagues, “I believe that the source quoted in this article is one of the local Phoenix LEO’s. Needless to say that I have contacted the Phoenix office and will contact the local’s [sic] who assisted in an attempt to stem further damage.”

An FBI employee responded, “This article is infuriating.” Another FBI person wrote in response, “You think there will be a need for non-disclosure agreements in the future?” A colleague wrote back, “That might not be a bad idea, given the circumstances.” All of their names are redacted.

Another FBI employee whose name is redacted responded to the email about the article, “We need to find that guy and bring him or her before a supervisor.” A colleague responded, “I’m trying to find out thru [sic] the PX STL. Hopefully, we will find out and at the very minimum, make sure he never works on any detail.”

Republican lawmakers and at least two of Trump’s lawyers have called for a special counsel to investigate the handling of the Clinton emails probe. Several congressional committees are also looking into that subject, as is the Justice Department inspector general.