Sessions declines to appoint second special counsel

Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsOvernight Hillicon Valley — Apple issues security update against spyware vulnerability Stanford professors ask DOJ to stop looking for Chinese spies at universities in US Overnight Energy & Environment — Democrats detail clean electricity program MORE revealed in a letter to lawmakers Thursday that he had declined to name a second special counsel to investigate allegations of surveillance abuse within the Department of Justice (DOJ), despite pressure from the Republican Party for him to do so.

In his letter to GOP committee chairmen Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyGrassley calls for federal prosecutor to probe botched FBI Nassar investigation Woman allegedly abused by Nassar after he was reported to FBI: 'I should not be here' Democrat rips Justice for not appearing at US gymnastics hearing MORE (Iowa), Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteThe job of shielding journalists is not finished Bottom line No documents? Hoping for legalization? Be wary of Joe Biden MORE (Va.) and Trey GowdyTrey GowdyTrey Gowdy sets goal of avoiding ideological echo chamber with Fox News show Fox News signs Trey Gowdy, Dan Bongino for new shows Pompeo rebukes Biden's new foreign policy MORE (S.C.), Sessions said the appointment of a special counsel only occurs under "the most 'extraordinary circumstances.' "

"To justify such an appointment, the Attorney General would need to conclude that 'the public interest would be served by removing a large degree of responsibility for the matter from the Department of Justice,' " Sessions wrote.

ADVERTISEMENT

He said he had named a federal prosecutor in Utah, John Huber, to lead the investigation into Republicans' allegations that the FBI and DOJ abused a surveillance program against a former Trump campaign aide.

"The additional matters raised in your March 6, 2018, letter fall within the scope of his existing mandate, and I am confident that Mr. Huber's review will include a full, complete, and objective evaluation of these matters in a manner that is consistent with the law and the facts," Sessions wrote.

Sessions said that upon completion of the investigation he would receive a recommendation from Huber about whether the allegations merit the need for another special counsel.

The letter comes amid mounting pressure from GOP lawmakers for Sessions to appoint a second counsel as Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE continues his own investigation into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Sessions earlier this month said he had tapped a former official "with many years in the Department of Justice" to look into the need for another special counsel, as calls grew from the likes of Grassley, Gowdy and Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Tight security for Capitol rally; Biden agenda slows Trump offers sympathy for those charged with Jan. 6 offenses Lindsey Graham: Police need 'to take a firm line' with Sept. 18 rally attendees MORE (R-S.C.) to to look into the alleged surveillance abuses within the department.

ADVERTISEMENT

His decision is likely to not sit well with President TrumpDonald TrumpOvernight Defense & National Security — The Pentagon's deadly mistake Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Interior returns BLM HQ to Washington France pulls ambassadors to US, Australia in protest of submarine deal MORE, who has frequently criticized the attorney general over his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. 

In his letter, Sessions also noted that he had directed the department's inspector general, Michael Horowitz, to open a probe into the allegations, an investigation that was formally announced on Wednesday. Trump has also been dismissive of the decision to put the department's watchdog in charge of the case.

"Why is A.G. Jeff Sessions asking the Inspector General to investigate potentially massive FISA abuse," Trump tweeted earlier in March after Sessions announced Horowitz would be looking into the surveillance abuse 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!"

The multiple investigations center on allegations from Republicans that the FBI and DOJ abused the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act (FISA), which were the subject of a controversial memo authored by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesLIVE COVERAGE: Ways and Means begins Day 2 on .5T package Biden faces unfinished mission of evacuating Americans Nunes sues MSNBC, alleging Rachel Maddow defamed him MORE (R-Calif.). 

The GOP lawmakers allege that investigators used information from the "Steele dossier," a controversial file of opposition research compiled by ex-MI6 agent Christopher Steele, in order to obtain a politically motivated warrant for former Trump adviser Carter Page.

ADVERTISEMENT

Huber has also been looking at whether the FBI should have more thoroughly probed Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonAttorney charged in Durham investigation pleads not guilty Attorney indicted on charge of lying to FBI as part of Durham investigation Durham seeking indictment of lawyer with ties to Democrats: reports MORE’s ties to Uranium One, a Russian nuclear energy agency.

Former President Obama appointed Huber to his position in 2015.

Updated at 5:58 p.m.