Attorney General Jeff Sessions (left), Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein and former associate attorney general Rachel Brand at a summit about combating human trafficking at the Department of Justice in Washington on Feb. 2, 2018. (Aaron Bernstein/Reuters)

The chairmen of two powerful House committees probing the conduct of federal law enforcement agencies asked top Justice Department officials Tuesday to appoint a second special counsel to examine questions of bias and alleged surveillance abuse at the Justice Department and the FBI.

In a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who leads the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), who heads the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, wrote that a second special counsel was necessary to probe “certain decisions made and not made by the Department of Justice and FBI in 2016 and 2017,” in light of “evidence of bias, trending toward animus, among those charged with investigating serious cases.”

The letter from Goodlatte and Gowdy adds further intensity to the pressure from many House Republicans to have a special counsel investigate whether Justice and the FBI acted properly in a series of decisions related to both Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections and the federal probe of former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. The committees chaired by Goodlatte and Gowdy launched a joint investigation into some of these questions late last year over the objections of several Democrats, who see the effort as an attempt to discredit the law enforcement agencies tasked with determining whether President Trump benefited from Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Republicans have questioned the integrity of both the federal Trump-Russia and Clinton email probes on the basis of a series of anti-Trump text messages exchanged between two FBI officials, deputy counterintelligence head Peter Strzok and lawyer Lisa Page, who worked on both investigations. Democrats have countered by pointing to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s decision to dismiss both individuals from his investigative team as soon as he learned of the exchanges.

That partisan dispute over the conduct of the FBI and the DOJ also fueled a war of dueling memos this year, as the House Intelligence Committee released a GOP-drafted document charging that the FBI and DOJ improperly relied on what Republicans charged was bad information from the author of a now-famous dossier detailing Trump’s alleged personal and financial ties to Russian officials. The Democrats rebutted the GOP memo with a document of their own, arguing that the federal law enforcement agencies acted properly.

Goodlatte and Gowdy appeared to refer to these matters in their letter to the Justice Department leaders, citing “evidence political opposition research was used in court filings.”

Democrats blasted the letter, accusing Goodlatte, Gowdy and other Republicans of trying to distract from Mueller’s probe and discredit the federal law enforcement agencies behind it.

“House Republicans have failed to substantiate their allegations of ‘FISA abuse’ at every turn,” the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), said in a statement, referring to the surveillance abuse the GOP alleged in their memo. “Chairman Goodlatte and Chairman Gowdy are simply off base . . . where there is no crime, there is no criminal investigation for a second special counsel to manage.”

“This may help serve the President’s interests, but does nothing to serve the national interest,” Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said, charging that Goodlatte and Gowdy “express their interest in investigating everything but what is most important: Russia’s interference in our election, the Trump campaign’s role, and what we need to do to protect the nation in the future.”

Last week, Sessions announced that he had asked the Justice Department’s inspector general to look into matters of FISA abuse, prompting sharp criticism from Trump, who on Twitter complained that the inspector general was “an Obama guy” and asked why Sessions would “not use Justice Department lawyers? DISGRACEFUL!”

Goodlatte and Gowdy addressed that dispute indirectly, arguing that a second special counsel was necessary to look into matters of bias and misconduct because “an actual conflict of interest exists” in asking the FBI and DOJ to investigate themselves. They also stated that the department’s inspector general would not suffice for such an investigation because that office “does not have the authority to investigate other governmental entities or former employees of the Department, the Bureau, or other agencies.”