SESSIONS REBUFFS call for immediate investigation of Obama-era matters.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, during a congressional hearing, rebuffed calls to immediately appoint a special counsel to investigate matters from the previous administration.
Nearly two hours into his grilling by the House Judiciary Committee, Sessions was confronted with a list of allegations by Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio. Jordan’s bullet points included Hillary Clinton’s emails and former FBI Director James Comey’s public exonerations of her.
Republicans on the committee have asked Sessions twice this year to appoint a special counsel to investigate the allegations. Before the hearings, the Justice Department directed senior prosecutors to review those matters.
Now under oath, Sessions was pressed by Jordan to appoint a special counsel. Jordan said it looks like there’s more than enough to proceed. “‘Looks like’ is not enough of a basis to appoint a special counsel,” Sessions said.
The Justice Department, in a letter to the judiciary committee, said Monday that Sessions had directed senior federal prosecutors to “evaluate certain issues” raised in recent weeks by members of Congress, which also include allegations that the Clinton Foundation benefited from a years-old uranium transaction involving a Russian-backed company.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly used social media to urge the Justice Department to investigate the deal, including in a series of Twitter posts this month in which he lamented not having more direct influence over the affairs of the law enforcement agency.
The prosecutors will report to Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and recommend whether any new investigations should be opened, whether any matters currently under investigation require additional resources and whether it might be necessary to appoint a special counsel to oversee a probe, according to the letter to the Judiciary Committee’s Republican chairman, Rep. Robert Goodlatte of Virginia.
Sessions, under questioning from Jordan on Tuesday, said he needs a “factual basis” to appoint a special counsel. But he later clarified that he “did not mean to suggest that I was taking a side one way or the other on that subject.”
Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., a member of the Judiciary Committee, sought to highlight that Trump had publicly pressed the Justice Department to investigate Clinton-related matters, noting, “What strikes me about these comments is the president’s view that the criminal justice system serves him and not the public.”
Sessions, though, disputed that he had been inappropriately pushed to do anything.
“I have not been improperly influenced and would not be improperly influenced,” he said.
In recent weeks, Trump has repeatedly weighed in on Twitter on Justice Department business to call for investigations of Democrats and has challenged Sessions to be more aggressive in going after his political opponents, expressing particular support for investigating the Clinton Foundation. He has also suggested at times that Sessions’ job could be in jeopardy.
“Everybody is asking why the Justice Department (and FBI) isn’t looking into all of the dishonesty going on with Crooked Hillary & the Dems…” Trump tweeted earlier this month.
Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd, in the letter to Goodlatte, did not say what specific steps might be taken by the Justice Department to address the lawmakers’ concerns, or whether any of the matters Republicans have seized on might already be under investigation by federal authorities.
Sessions said at his January confirmation hearing that he would recuse himself from any investigations involving Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee in the 2016 election, given his role as a vocal campaign surrogate to Trump.
He similarly recused himself from a separate investigation into potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, and in May, the Justice Department appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to lead that probe.