Several Senate Democrats are pushing for an investigation into whether Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ role in the firing of former FBI director James Comey violated his recusal from investigations related to the 2016 presidential campaign.
A letter signed by 11 Democrats, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), called for a probe by Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz, whose job is to investigate fraud, abuse and misconduct by Department of Justice personnel.
The letter said that the attorney general’s “active role” in Comey’s dismissal “seems to be in direct violation” of his decision to recuse himself from “any existing or future investigations of any matter relating in any way to the campaigns for the president of the United States.” It also raises questions about the Department of Justice’s ability to conduct an independent investigation into possible collusion between Russian officials and the Trump campaign.
Comey was leading a counterintelligence investigation into alleged Russian interference in the election to help Trump win, and possible connections between the Russian government and the president’s campaign associates.
“It is imperative that the American people have faith in the institutions that are investigating the influence a hostile foreign power may have had on our presidential campaign, election, and the current administration of President Trump,” the letter said. “We believe the Attorney General’s involvement in the termination of Director Comey has injected the exact ‘partiality’ in these investigations he claimed to wish to avoid.”
In March, Sessions said he would recuse himself from investigations related to Russia’s alleged interference in the election because he was part of Trump’s campaign. The announcement came a day after The Washington Post revealed that Sessions met twice with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the campaign and did not disclose that to the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearing in January.
On May 9, Sessions wrote a letter to the White House saying the FBI leadership needed a “fresh start” and recommended Comey’s firing (several White House officials told the Post that Trump gave Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein a directive to explain in writing the case against Comey). In his termination letter, Trump said his decision to fire Comey came from Sessions’s recommendation.
The White House had struggled to explain Comey’s firing. A parade of White House aides initially said that Trump simply acted on the recommendation of Sessions and Rosenstein.
Trump later contradicted statements by his staff when he told NBC News’s Lester Holt that the decision to fire Comey has been his all along, and the reason was the Trump-Russia controversy, which he dismissed as “a made-up story.”
Trump’s own admission “only raises further questions” about Sessions and his DOJ’s ability to be impartial on investigations related to the Trump campaign and Russia, the letter said.
“His involvement (in Comey’s firing) … can only be construed as an attempt to influence an ongoing investigation that threatens to examine his own role in the 2016 presidential campaign,” the letter said.
After Comey was fired, several Democrats demanded a special prosecutor to take over the investigation. But most Republicans, who are in control of both the House and the Senate, don’t support an independent inquiry, although many of them are unhappy about Comey’s abrupt dismissal.
The letter was signed by Democratic Senators Martin Heinrich (New Mexico), Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts), Richard Blumenthal (Connecticut), Ron Wyden (Oregon), Kirsten Gillibrand (New York), Jack Reed (Rhode Island), Tammy Duckworth (Illinois), Edward J. Markey (Massachusetts), Maria Cantwell (Washington), Patty Murray (Washington) and Tom Udall (New Mexico).
A complaint filed Friday by an ethics watchdog group made similar allegations against Sessions.