Former President Bill Clinton told investigators that he didn’t think the investigation into wife Hillary Clinton’s emails “amounted to much, frankly” and thus found nothing wrong with initiating an impromptu meeting with the attorney general on a Phoenix airport tarmac.

Mr. Clinton testified to investigators that he believed he knew the “truth of that whole thing.” He said he did not want to snub Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch when he walked the 30 yards from his private jet to hers. He told her she was doing a great job and that she was his favorite Cabinet secretary.

The airport scene — at times chaotic as a Lynch aide tried to break up the meeting but got stopped by security and as Mr. Clinton kept talking longer than Mrs. Lynch wanted — is captured in Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s 500-plus-page report on the Clinton email saga.

The June 27, 2016, tarmac episode is one of the moments most talked about. Some Republicans said the two-term president, by his mere presence, tried to influence the criminal investigation as Mrs. Clinton was running for president.

Mr. Clinton described his wife to Mrs. Lynch as “a happy grandmother and an ardent one and that we were very lucky because our daughter and her husband and our grandchildren live in New York, so they are about an hour from us in a decent traffic day.”

At the time of the meeting, Mrs. Clinton’s interview with the FBI was less than a week away.

An unidentified aide to Ms. Lynch didn’t see the session as advisable. She said she was sitting in a plane-side van and would have stopped the meeting had she witnessed Mr. Clinton approach. She described her response as “shocked” and she “just felt completely … blindsided” once he got onto the plane.

“If I had knowledge, I would not have been in that van. I would’ve … stayed on the plane and got everybody off. … No heads-up or anything,” she said.

Another aide tried to reboard the plane to break up the meeting, but the chief of Ms. Lynch’s security detail would not let her pass....

Ms. Lynch said the tete-a-tete with Mr. Clinton, as his wife was being investigated by her Justice Department, went “on and on” for 20 minutes.“It was just too long a conversation to have had,” she said.She told investigators that she thought the meeting would be no more than a greeting. But Mr. Clinton made himself at home and regaled her and her husband in small talk, she told the Justice Department investigators.“At some point, after two or three minutes, President Clinton turned around,” she said. “I had my tote bags on the bench seat of the plane, because I had put them there when he came on board. I had been holding them. I put them down. He picked up my tote bags and moved them, and then he sat down.

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