The nation’s ultra-conservative attorney general, Jeff Sessions, is facing mounting pressure from the far-right wing of his party, and even President Trump himself, for not rushing to appoint a special counsel to investigate Hillary Clinton.
While on the campaign trail for Trump, Sessions smiled through raucous chants of “Lock her up!” – but now that he’s the nation’s top law enforcement official, Sessions is tapping the breaks on his party’s rush to try to toss Clinton in prison.
“We’re not going to be driven by politics,” the attorney general told numerous Republicans when he testified before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.
The chair of that committee, Bob Goodlatte, has penned a letter asking the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel to look into the FBI’s handling of Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state.
“Numerous matters connected to the 2016 election remain unresolved,” Goodlatte told the attorney general at Tuesday’s hearing. “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.”
A growing number of Republicans also are calling for Sessions to appoint a new special counsel to investigate why the Obama administration allowed the Russian energy firm Rosatom to buy a controlling share of Uranium One, a Canadian firm with U.S. uranium holdings that had many people associated with it make sizable donations the Clinton Foundation. The head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley, is pushing Sessions to investigate the sale, which took place when Clinton was secretary of state.
“It’s a case of, if it’s political interference it doesn’t matter whether it’s a Republican or a Democrat, you’ve got to investigate it,” Grassley told reporters Tuesday.
Trump has been one of the leading voices in the GOP trying to pressure Sessions to act.
“There is so much GUILT by Democrats/Clinton, and now the facts are pouring out,” Trump tweeted in October. “DO SOMETHING!”
The president doubled down in November. “At some point the Justice Department, and the FBI, must do what is right and proper,” he tweeted. “Everybody is asking why the Justice Department (and FBI) isn’t looking into all of the dishonesty going on with Crooked Hillary & the Dems.”
With the investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with Russian still ongoing, Democrats are pushing back against the torrent of GOP demands for a new Clinton probe.
“We need to keep the eye on the ball, which is Russian involvement in 2016 – how did it happen, and why did it happen?” Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, tells Rolling Stone. “I’m not sure the president understands the notion of an independent judiciary.”
For now, Sessions has resisted the calls for a new special counsel, but the frustration from rank-and-file conservatives is growing daily on Capitol Hill.
“What’s it going to take to get a special counsel?” a frustrated Rep. Jim Jordan asked Sessions Tuesday.
“We would use the proper standard, and that’s the only thing I can tell you, Mr. Jordan,” Sessions responded. “You can have your idea, but sometimes we have to study what the facts are and to evaluate whether it meets the standard it requires.”
There are some Republicans who have been critical of their fellow party members on this matter.
“I’ve never seen anything to it. Why go back into it?” retiring Republican Sen. Jeff Flake tells Rolling Stone. “I guess people would rather talk about that than the investigation that’s going on.”
Democrats say the calls for a special counsel are pure politics and a distraction from the GOP’s ability to pass any major pieces of their legislative agenda.
“I thought the election was over; I don’t understand,” Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown tells Rolling Stone. “I don’t know why Republicans, except to talk to their base, want to continue to look back and try to put Hillary Clinton in jail. It’s just the most bizarre kind of behavior.”
“They’ve got no accomplishments to talk about,” Brown says. “They’ve really got no ideas, anything new – the tax bill is just more trickle-down and [giving] tax cuts to the rich … so they’ve got nothing to talk about except to continue to distract people on Hillary Clinton.”