Conservatives fume after Sessions declines to appoint new special counsel

Conservative are boiling with anger at Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsWu-Tang Clan jokingly enlists Comey to track down mystery album GOP lawmakers demand Sessions investigate Clinton, Comey Holder: 'Our democracy is under attack' MORE for declining to appoint a second special counsel to investigate alleged abuses at the FBI and Department of Justice (DOJ).

In a Thursday letter to senior GOP lawmakers in the House and Senate, Sessions explained that he had appointed John Huber, a U.S. attorney from Utah who was first appointed by former President Obama, to work with DOJ’s inspector general to determine whether a second special counsel is necessary.

While Sessions says he will accept Huber’s recommendation on whether to appoint a second special counsel, the attorney general set a high bar for an independent investigation, saying it would require “extraordinary circumstances.”

Conservatives are apoplectic, believing there is more than enough evidence of wrongdoing at the FBI and widespread conflicts of interest within the DOJ to justify an outside prosecutor.

“If he’s not going to appoint a second special counsel then he should step down,” said Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanScalise allies upset over Ryan blindside on McCarthy endorsement House consumed by leadership races Trump cautioned to stay out of Speaker race: report MORE (R-Ohio), a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.

Sessions’s letter of explanation satisfied a trio of GOP leaders — Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleySenate panel moving ahead with Mueller bill despite McConnell opposition Republicans refuse to back opioids bill sponsored by vulnerable Dem Pavlich: When will McCabe face prosecution for lying? MORE (R-Iowa), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteDems press for hearings after Libby pardon Supreme Court weighs future of online sales taxes GOP chairmen extend deadline for DOJ decision to turn over 'Comey memos' MORE (R-Va.) and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyGOP chairmen extend deadline for DOJ decision to turn over 'Comey memos' The Hill's Morning Report: Hannity drawn into Cohen legal fight Watchdog: Pruitt’s chief of staff responsible for aides’ controversial raises MORE (R-S.C.) — who had sent letters to the attorney general requesting a second special counsel.

In a statement, Goodlatte and Gowdy praised Huber, saying he has a strong reputation and will “conduct an independent and thorough investigation.”

They said that, by appointing Huber, Sessions had demonstrated his “commitment to this investigation,” while noting that the attorney general “reserves the right to appoint a special counsel in the future.”

“While we continue to believe the appointment of a second special counsel is necessary, this is a step in the right direction,” Gowdy and Goodlatte said.

But there is widespread frustration among conservatives, who have been sounding the alarm about allegations of anti-Trump bias at the FBI and DOJ for months.

There is a sense on the right that Sessions is getting pushed around by career law enforcement officials who are seeking to protect their own.

In a Thursday night interview on Fox News Channel’s “The Ingraham Angle,” Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsHouse consumed by leadership races McCarthy courts conservatives in Speaker's bid GOP chairmen extend deadline for DOJ decision to turn over 'Comey memos' MORE (R-N.C.), the chairman of the Freedom Caucus, accused the DOJ of ignoring congressional subpoenas and of omitting material facts in the documents provided to lawmakers probing allegations of FBI misconduct.

“We need to have the special counsel,” Meadows said. “I disagree with the attorney general. … The Justice Department is not complying with the subpoena and oversight responsibility we have in Congress, so for the attorney general to say there’s not enough there is extremely disappointing.”

Republicans have alleged that the so-called Steele dossier, which was paid for by Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee, was improperly used to obtain a warrant to spy on a Trump campaign official. They say the FBI and DOJ hid from the surveillance court that the information had been paid for by Democrats.

Former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyWu-Tang Clan jokingly enlists Comey to track down mystery album Comey says he regrets describing Trump's appearance in book Comey interview gives Colbert his third-highest ratings ever MORE, whose firing by Trump prompted the appointment of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE, and Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod Jay RosensteinMcConnell: Senate won't take up Mueller protection bill The rule-of-law party must unite around Mueller GOP chairmen extend deadline for DOJ decision to turn over 'Comey memos' MORE, who is now overseeing Mueller’s probe, are among those who signed off on the warrant applications.

Republicans also believe former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabeAndrew George McCabeGOP lawmakers demand Sessions investigate Clinton, Comey Pavlich: When will McCabe face prosecution for lying? Anderson Cooper confronts GOP lawmaker: You haven't heard the president lie? MORE has lied to investigators under oath about his contacts with the media, which may have contributed to his firing. 

Jordan said he’d seen evidence that McCabe had lied four times about his authorization to speak with the media, including to Comey, the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), and twice under oath to the FBI’s inspector general. Sessions fired McCabe earlier this month after the OPR recommended he do so.

McCabe, who is friends with Comey, was previously at the center of controversy for leading the investigation into the Clinton matter, even after his wife received a sizable political donation from former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), a Clinton ally.

After the firing, it was revealed that McCabe had launched an investigation into Sessions over whether the attorney general had lied about his contacts with Russians.

A report from DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who is now working with Huber, is coming soon and expected to be highly critical of McCabe. The Horowitz report is expected to be the definitive take on the FBI and DOJ’s handling of the Clinton investigation.

But Republicans are also eager to investigate FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. Strzok was a key agent involved in the separate probes into Clinton and Trump. He interviewed Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who later plead guilty to lying to the FBI. 

In private text messages, Strzok and Page — who were having an extramarital affair — were critical of Trump, as well as other politicians. Both were removed last year from Mueller’s team.

And Republicans want to look into Bruce Ohr, a senior DOJ official who is married to a woman who worked for Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm that paid a former British spy to compile the anti-Trump dosser.

“If this doesn’t represent extraordinary circumstances, then what the heck does, Mr. Sessions?” Jordan said.

Still, some legal experts are calling on Republicans to pump the brakes on their criticism of Sessions.

They say that Huber will bring subpoena and grand jury power to Horowitz’s investigation, potentially laying the groundwork for actions against current and former DOJ and FBI officials, or even a second special counsel down the road.

“What [Sessions] did is he essentially combined the powers of the inspector general with the powers of a line prosecutor,” Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University and contributor for The Hill, said on Fox News Channel.

“This prosecutor does have not just the experience and training to look for a criminal case, he has the ability to move a case of that kind. Moreover, if he finds that crimes were committed and many people of the FBI might be implicated, Sessions reserved the right to go ahead and appoint a special counsel," Turley said. "That's a powerful combination.”

But conservatives are fed up by what they see as inaction and feckless leadership by Sessions, who they blame for exposing the president to rogue actions by law enforcement officials.

“Sessions is trying to take the pressure off of himself by appointing Huber, but Huber was appointed by Obama and nobody believes he’s going to take strong action against his own agency,” said conservative lawyer Larry Klayman. “This is a charade. As Woody Allen said, 'it’s a travesty of a mockery of a sham,' except it’s not funny.

"I think Trump has had it with Sessions and will fire him soon. He’s just pushing everything down road to a point Mueller will have a green light to bring indictments or write impeachment reports. It’s time for Trump to take strong action. Sessions is leading him down the primrose path to destruction.”