Attorney General Jeff Sessions is under mounting pressure from the right to appoint a second special counsel to investigate conservative allegations of abuse at the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the FBI.
Up to now, those calls have gone quietly unanswered, with officials pointing to the existence of a Justice Department inspector general investigation that is expected to wrap up sometime this spring.
But Sessions last week revealed that he has tapped a former official outside of the Beltway “with many years in the Department of Justice” to review the need for a special counsel, suggesting the idea is receiving a serious look.
Powerful GOP lawmakers are urging Sessions to pull the trigger, arguing the inspector general does not have the prosecutorial authority needed to conduct a full investigation of the FBI’s actions.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Thursday sent a letter to Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein calling for a special counsel to “gather all the facts.”
“The FBI and the Department of Justice were corrupt, in my view, when it came to handling the email investigation of [Hillary] Clinton. And the entire FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] warrant application process was abused,” Graham told Fox News’s Bret Baier, referring to a surveillance authority conservatives believe was misused during the 2016 campaign to launch the Russia investigation.
Last week, two powerful House GOP chairmen — Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (Va.) and Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (S.C.) — made a similar request, demanding a review of any evidence of “bias” by DOJ or FBI employee as well as whether there was any “extraneous influence” on the surveillance process.
Critics of the GOP push say the allegations of bias and abuse are a transparent effort to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia.
If Sessions’s review does not result in the appointment of a second special counsel, there’s growing speculation that it could be his own head on the chopping block. President Trump has repeatedly criticized his attorney general since Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation last year, and has hammered him for deferring to Inspector General Michael Horowitz.
“Why is A.G. Jeff Sessions asking the Inspector General to investigate potentially massive FISA abuse,” Trump tweeted after Sessions announced Horowitz would be probing the allegations. “Will take forever, has no prosecutorial power and already late with reports on [former FBI Director James] Comey etc. Isn’t the I.G. an Obama guy? Why not use Justice Department lawyers? DISGRACEFUL!”
Sessions late Friday made one move that could help temper conservative criticism, as he fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, long a target on the right, over alleged misconduct. McCabe had been set to retire on Sunday with a full pension.
But critics of the FBI’s handling of the Clinton investigation are likely to see McCabe’s firing — which was made after investigators found he made an unauthorized disclosure to the media and “lacked candor” under oath — as further evidence of the need for a special counsel.
Jay Sekulow, a member of Trump’s personal legal team contesting the Russia investigation, has publicly made the case for Sessions to make such an appointment.
“The special counsel has a deeper ability to talk to witnesses outside of the existing Department of Justice personnel, which is one of the limitations imposed on an inspector general,” Sekulow told Fox News’s Sean Hannity last week.