Appointing a second special counsel could rattle Justice Department
Attorney General Jeff Sessions testifies before a House Judiciary Committee Tuesday, saying he may appoint a special counsel to probe issues related to Hillary Clinton, depending on the recommendations of senior prosecutors. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters) November 14 at 5:39 PM
Attorney General Jeff Sessionsâs public suggestion that he may appoint a special counsel to investigate Hillary Clinton has alarmed current and former Justice Department officials who fear he will further politicize the embattled agency.
Sessions said at a congressional hearing Tuesday that he will weigh recommendations from senior prosecutors on whether to appoint a special counsel over a 2010 uranium company deal and other issues, including donations to the Clinton Foundation.
Such an appointment could give President Trump and Republicans a political counterweight to the ongoing work of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who is probing whether any Trump associates coordinated with the Russian government to interfere in last yearâs presidential election.
For that reason, Sessionsâs suggestion has raised fresh questions about the independence of the Justice Department in the Trump administration.
âTo have the winning side exploring the possibility of prosecuting the losing side in an election â" itâs un-American, and itâs grotesque,â said John Danforth, a former special counsel who investigated the FBIâs role in a violent standoff with a cult in Waco, Tex. âThe proliferation of special counsels in a political setting is very, very bad.âAttorney General Jeff Sessions answered questions about Russia, Pr esident Trump and Roy Moore at the House Judiciary committee hearing Nov. 14. (The Washington Post)
Peter R. Zeidenberg, who once served as deputy special counsel in the probe of former White House aide Lewis âScooterââ Libby, said âthe best-case scenarioâ is that the attorney general is trying simply to mollify an angry president and doesnât really plan to name a special counsel.
If one is appointed to probe Clinton matters, âI think the vast majority of people at DOJ would be completely disgusted and demoralized by it,ââ said Zeidenberg, referring to the Justice Department. âThey donât like feeling that they are political tools to be used by the president.ââ
A federal law enforcement official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to comment freely, said the move is particularly frustrating because many of the subjects Sessions says could fall under the purview of a special counsel were previously investigated by the FBI or are under investigation by the Justice Departmentâs inspector general.
âGoing back to look at issues weâve already looked at â" and some issues weâre still looking at â" what is that if not politics?â asked the official.
[Fact Checker: The repeated, incorrect claim that Russia obtained â20 percent of our uraniumâ]
Sessions insisted in his testimony that he is not leaning one way or the other on the appointment of a new special counsel and that he is awaiting a detailed presentation from senior officials at the Justice Department.
âI have no prejudgment. I did not mean to suggest I was taking sides one way or the other on that subject,ââ he said.Attorney General Jeff Sessions gave a heated reply to questions from Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Nov. 14. (Reuters)
The first year of the Trump administration has been a turbulent one for the Justice Department. FBI Director James B. Comey was f ired. The president has repeatedly and publicly attacked the department, the FBI and senior officials at those agencies, complaining that he wishes he could have more control over how they pursue criminal cases.
In several angry tweets Nov. 3, the president called again for investigations of Clinton and Democrats, saying, âat some point the Justice Department, and the FBI, must do what is right and proper. The American public deserves it!ââ
Current and former Justice Department officials could not recall the last time the department publicly dangled the possibility of a special counsel appointment. When House Republicans demanded a special counsel probe of the IRSâs treatment of conservative groups during the Obama administration, the Justice Department stayed largely silent on the call until it issued a lengthy letter explaining the reasons prosecutors would not pursue charges in the case.
Also unclear Tuesday was how Sessions might appoint such a speci al counsel for some of the issues, given that he has recused himself from investigative matters involving the 2016 campaign due to his vocal support of Trump and fierce public criticism of Clinton.
One of the areas that Republicans want investigated is whether donations to the Clinton Foundation may have been tied to political favors by Clinton or any of her subordinates when she was secretary of state. The FBI probed that issue in 2015 and 2016, but Justice Department officials decided there wasnât enough evidence to pursue a full-fledged investigation. A separate Clinton Foundation-related federal probe has been ongoing in Virginia, but its final disposition is still unclear, according to people familiar with the matter.
In his testimony, Sessions did say that he believed his recusal would not bar him from appointing a special counsel to investigate possible wrongdoing involving Uranium One, a Canadian mining company with U.S. assets that was purchased by Russiaâ s nuclear energy agency. Republicans have suggested that the deal, which required U.S. approval from a multiagency board that included Clintonâs State Department, should have been blocked because of a separate corruption probe involving Russian uranium shipments.
Yet the attorney general also offered a mild rebuttal to suggestions by some of his fellow Republicans that there are clear connections in the uranium case that need further investigation, noting that the approval of the deal was two or three years removed from the key events in the corruption probe.
Some conservatives say a special counsel appointment could have consequences far beyond Clinton. Fox News host Sean Hannity, who is also an informal adviser to the president, has called for a special counsel to probe the uranium deal and has said that because Mueller was the director of the FBI at the time Uranium One was purchased, Mueller should be removed from his role probing the Trump White House.
â Thereâs no way the American people can trust Robert Mueller to investigate anything Russia-related,â Hannity has said.
Former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy said he doubted there was any prosecutor appointment or assignment that would lead to Mueller stepping down.
âIt seems theyâre frustrated by the Mueller investigation, and they think, âWhy donât we get one to look at the Clinton stuff?â And thatâs just not the way itâs supposed to work,â he said.
McCarthy also said he thought it was a mistake, legally and politically, for the Justice Department to publicly suggest that it might appoint a special counsel.
âI donât know what Sessions is going to do here, but I donât see any good reason for the Justice Department, in a situation where itâs not the administration investigating itself, to appoint a special counsel,â he said. âYou should never float the idea on your side, because when you float the idea, you are at least suggesting thereâs a possibility you may not be capable of doing the job yourself for ethical reasons.âSource: Google News