Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday resisted calls from Republicans that he appoint a second special counsel to investigate a slate of conservative allegations related to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In a marathon appearance before the House Judiciary Committee, the pressure the former Alabama senator faces from his own party and the White House was at the forefront even as he endured tough questions from Democrats.
The most memorable exchange of the day came when Sessions told a testy Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a leading voice among House conservatives, that it would take “a factual basis that meets the standard of a special counsel” for the Justice Department to appoint a special prosecutor.
“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.”
Sessions on Tuesday did not entirely close the door to a probe and later clarified that he had made no “prejudgment” on the need for a new special counsel.
He testified that he has directed senior Justice Department prosecutors to “evaluate” the concerns raised by conservatives — including whether any merit the appointment of a special counsel.
But it was apparent throughout the five-and-a-half-hour hearing that his refusal so far to appoint a special prosecutor is frustrating Republicans.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) in his opening statement zeroed in on his own stymied demands for a special counsel — and Sessions’s decision to recuse himself from the Justice Department’s Russia probe, which has soured his relationship with President Trump.
“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,” Goodlatte said.
As special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election has escalated, Sessions has come under pressure from Trump himself to take action against Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee.
On Nov. 3, shortly before leaving for a nearly two-week trip to Asia, Trump told reporters that the Justice Department should be “looking at” Clinton and the Democrats.
Asked if he would fire Sessions if the Justice Department didn’t have agents investigate the Democratic National Committee, Trump responded, “I don’t know.”
“A lot of people are disappointed in the Justice Department, including me,” he said.