Judiciary chairman hints at dissatisfaction with Sessions

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteFive things to know about Bruce Ohr, the DOJ official under fire from Trump Republicans become entangled by family feuds over politics House GOP prepares to grill DOJ official linked to Steele dossier MORE (R-Va.) zeroed in on his demands for a second special counsel in the first five minutes of a hotly-anticipated oversight hearing with Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsSantorum: Mueller could avoid charges of McCarthyism by investigating DOJ, FBI 8,000 new ways the Trump administration is undermining immigration court independence Watergate's John Dean rips Trump: I doubt you have any idea what McGahn told Mueller MORE on Tuesday morning.

"I have chosen, as chairman of this committee, to let special counsel Robert Mueller do his job, free from undue political influence," he said in his opening statement. "At the same time, however, this committee will do its duty and conduct oversight of DOJ [Department of Justice]."

Hinting at dissatisfaction with Sessions, Goodlatte referenced a pair of requests that the Justice Department name a second special counsel to investigate the Obama Justice Department’s investigation into Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonArizona GOP Senate candidate defends bus tour with far-right activist Santorum: Mueller could avoid charges of McCarthyism by investigating DOJ, FBI Giuliani claims McGahn was a 'strong witness' for Trump MORE’s private email server.

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“Numerous matters connected to the 2016 election remain unresolved,” Goodlatte said.

“You have recused yourself from matters stemming from the 2016 election, but there are significant concerns that the partisanship of the FBI and the department has weakened the ability of each to act objectively.”

Sessions recused himself from the federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election — including looking into any coordination between Moscow and the Trump campaign — in the wake of reports that he failed to disclose meetings with the Russian ambassador to lawmakers.

The move has aggravated President Trump, who has complained that Sessions should not have stepped back.

Goodlatte noted Tuesday that he believed had Sessions not recused himself from that probe, the attorney general "would have been impartial and fair in following the facts wherever they led.”

The Trump Justice Department is weighing the need for a second special counsel, according to a letter from assistant attorney general Stephen Boyd sent to Goodlatte on Monday night.

But later in his testimony, Sessions appeared to throw cold water on the immediate need for a special counsel.

In a heated exchange with Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanThree scenarios for how leadership races could play out in the House New Dem ad uses Paterno, KKK, affair allegations to tar GOP leaders Department of Education launches investigation into OSU sexual abuse allegations MORE (R-Ohio), Sessions rejected his argument that “it sure looks like a major political party was working with the federal government ... so they could then get a warrant to spy on President Trump’s campaign.”

"I would say 'looks like' is not enough basis to appoint a special counsel," Sessions said sharply. 

It would take "a factual basis that meets the standard of a special counsel" for the Justice Department to make such an appointment, he said.

"We will use the proper standards and that’s the only thing I can tell you, Mr. Jordan," Sessions said. "You can have your idea but sometimes we have to study what the facts are and to evaluate whether it meets the standards it requires." 

Democrats have slammed the proposal as a partisan effort.

“To quote former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, ‘putting political opponents in jail for offenses committed in a political setting ... is something that we don’t do here,’ ” ranking member John ConyersJohn James ConyersConservative activist disrupts campaign event for Muslim candidates Michigan Dems elect state's first all-female statewide ticket for midterms Record numbers of women nominated for governor, Congress MORE Jr. (D-Mich.) said in his opening statement.

“The threat alone resembles, in his words, ‘a banana republic.’ ”

- This report was updated at 12:15 p.m.