Conservatives fume after Sessions declines to appoint new special counsel

Conservative are boiling with anger at Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsThe 'pitcher of warm spit' — Veepstakes and the fate of Mike Pence FBI officials hid copies of Russia probe documents fearing Trump interference: book Tuberville breaks DC self-quarantine policy to campaign 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.

ADVERTISEMENT
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 JordanThe 'pitcher of warm spit' — Veepstakes and the fate of Mike Pence Tucker Carlson calls Fauci a 'fraud' after tense hearing Overnight Health Care: Five takeaways from Fauci's testimony | CDC: Children might play 'important role' in spreading COVID-19 | GOP leader wants rapid testing at Capitol 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 GrassleyMcConnell goes hands-off on coronavirus relief bill GOP chairmen hit back at accusation they are spreading disinformation with Biden probe On The Money: Unemployment debate sparks GOP divisions | Pandemic reveals flaws of unemployment insurance programs | Survey finds nearly one-third of rehired workers laid off again MORE (R-Iowa), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlattePress: Trump's final presidential pardon: himself USCIS chief Cuccinelli blames Paul Ryan for immigration inaction Immigrant advocacy groups shouldn't be opposing Trump's raids MORE (R-Va.) and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdySenate GOP set to ramp up Obama-era probes More than two dozen former prosecutors, judges, active trial lawyers support DOJ decision to dismiss Michael Flynn case Sunday shows preview: As states loosen social distancing restrictions, lawmakers address dwindling state budgets 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 MeadowsCoronavirus talks on life support as parties dig in, pass blame On The Money: Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire | Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks | Tax preparers warn unemployment recipients could owe IRS Top Democrats say postmaster confirmed changes to mail service amid delays 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 ComeyTrump: Yates either lying or grossly incompetent Yates spars with GOP at testy hearing Trump knocks Sally Yates ahead of congressional testimony MORE, whose firing by Trump prompted the appointment of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE, and Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinFBI officials hid copies of Russia probe documents fearing Trump interference: book Sally Yates to testify as part of GOP probe into Russia investigation Graham releases newly declassified documents on Russia probe 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 McCabeFBI officials hid copies of Russia probe documents fearing Trump interference: book Senate GOP set to ramp up Obama-era probes Showtime miniseries to feature Jeff Daniels as Comey, Brendan Gleeson as Trump 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.”