Attorney General Jeff Sessions may have just thrown a wrench into GOP plans to open a new federal investigation of Hillary Clinton.
This morning at a House Judiciary Committee hearing, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) pressed Sessions for a special counsel investigation into how former FBI Director James Comey handled the Clinton probe during the election. Clinton was being investigated for using a private email server during her time as secretary of state.
Sessions pushed backed, saying a special counsel is only appointed if there is enough evidence to merit that appointment.
Sessions noted that there have only ever been two special counsels: one for the Waco siege in April 1993, and Robert Mueller’s probe into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. “Each of those are pretty special, factual situations,” Sessions said, “and we will use the proper standards.”
It’s an important exchange, especially as Republicans in Congress also want a special counsel to look into Uranium One, where Republicans claimed Clinton gave Russia 20 percent of America’s uranium when she was secretary of state. But that’s demonstrably not true, which would make a special counsel appointment very odd.
It also comes a day after the Justice Department told the chair of the committee, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), that it was considering appointing a special counsel to investigate alleged Clinton misdeeds. That letter raised immediate concerns about the possible politicization of the DOJ because it seemed Sessions was willing to use right-wing talking points endorsed by the White House as grounds for a criminal probe into Clinton’s time at the State Department.
But Sessions said the DOJ requires a high standard of evidence to appoint a special counsel, which means he may not grant that request. Sessions is at the hearing to answer questions about his leadership of the Department of Justice and his interactions with Russians while a top adviser in the Trump campaign.
You can see the Jordan-Sessions exchange — lightly edited for clarity and length — below.
What's it going to take to actually get a special counsel?
It would take a factual basis that meets the standards of the appointment of a special counsel.
Is that analysis going on right now?
Well, it's in the manual of the Department of Justice about what's required. We have only had two.
The first one was the Waco [siege] — Sen. [John] Danforth took over that investigation as special counsel — and Mr. Mueller. Each of those are pretty special, factual situations, and we will use the proper standards.
And that's the only thing I can tell you, Mr. Jordan. You can have your idea, but sometimes we have to study what the facts are and to evaluate whether it meets the standard that requires a special counsel.
But we know one fact. We know the Clinton campaign, the Democratic National Committee, paid for, through the law firm, paid for the dossier [that alleges Trump-Russia ties].
We know that happened, and it sure looks like the FBI was paying the author of that document. And it sure looks like a major political party was working with the federal government to then turn an opposition research document that quoted some National Enquirer story into an intelligence document, take that to the FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] court so that they could then get a warrant to spy on Americans associated with President Trump’s campaign.
That's what it looks like, and I'm asking you: Doesn't that warrant — in addition to all the things we know about James Comey in 2016 — doesn't that warrant naming a second special counsel, as 20 members of this committee wrote you three and a half months ago asking you to do?
Well, Mr. Comey is no longer the director of the FBI. We have an excellent man of integrity and ability in [FBI Director] Chris Wray, and I think he's going to do an outstanding job, and I’m very happy about that.
But he's not here today, Attorney General Sessions, you are, and I'm asking for a special counsel.
And I would say: “Looks like” is not enough basis to appoint a special counsel.