Judiciary chairman hints at dissatisfaction with Sessions

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteGOP revolts multiply against retiring Ryan Farm bill revolt could fuel Dreamer push Overnight Finance: House rejects farm bill in conservative revolt | NAFTA deal remains elusive as talks drag on | Dodd-Frank rollback set for House vote 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 SessionsChris Christie compares Mueller investigation to 'Bridgegate' probe Oakland mayor fires back at Trump: ‘It’s my duty to protect my residents’ McCabe lawyer fires back at Trump: 'You need to stop lying’ 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 ClintonTrump Jr. met with Gulf adviser who offered help to win election: report Voters Dems need aren't impressed by anti-waterboarding showboating After year of investigation, Trump can rightly claim some vindication 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 JordanTalk of unproven FBI 'plant' in Trump campaign circulates among Republicans Farm bill revolt could fuel Dreamer push House rejects farm bill as conservatives revolt 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 ConyersConyers's son in danger of missing ballot in Michigan Eric Schneiderman and #MeToo pose challenges for both parties Even for TV 'royalty' Brokaw, 'MeToo' claim is legacy-killer 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.