Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent a letter in reply to a group of leading Republicans on Thursday, indicating he would not be appointing a special counsel to investigate certain aspects of the FBI’s handling of probes into Russian election interference.
Instead, Sessions announced he would assign regular top-level federal prosecutor U.S. Attorney John Huber of the District of Utah to assist Justice Department Inspector General Micheal Horowitz in his investigation of issues like FBI bias against President Donald Trump before and after the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and the Bureau’s relationship with Fusion GPS’s ex-spy Christopher Steele. Huber will have the authority to recommend the appointment of a new special counsel to prosecute criminal matters if he sees them arise.
The letter, addressed to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC), explains:
Mr. Huber is conducting his work from outside the Washington, DC. area and in cooperation with the Inspector General. The additional matters raised in your March 6, 2018, letter fall within the scope of his existing mandate, and I am confident that Mr. Huber’s review will include a full, complete, and objective evaluation of these matters in a manner that is consistent with the law and the facts. I receive regular updates from Mr. Huber and upon the conclusion of his review, will receive his recommendations as to whether any matters not currently under investigation should be opened, whether any matters currently under investigation require further resources, or whether any matters merit the appointment of a Special Counsel.
Sessions further defended his decision to keep the matters formally under the jurisdiction of the Inspector General’s Office (OIG), explaining that, unlike a special counsel, OIG publicizes misdeeds and damning communications that do not necessarily rise to the criminal level. “The Inspector General also may, under appropriate circumstances, make information available to the public even if no criminal or disciplinary action is recommended,” Sessions writes. “In contrast, this type of information would not normally be publicly available after the conclusion of a traditional criminal investigation.”
The letter was penned in response to Goodlatte, Grassley, Gowdy, and other other congressional Republicans’ urging that Sessions appoint a second special counsel. The reaction from Goodlatte and Gowdy was broadly supportive of Huber’s assignment. In a joint letter, the two write:
We are encouraged that Attorney General Sessions has designated U.S. Attorney John W. Huber to investigate the actions of the Department of Justice and FBI in 2016 and 2017. While we continue to believe the appointment of a second Special Counsel is necessary, this is a step in the right direction. We expect that U.S. Attorney Huber, given his reputation, will conduct an independent and thorough investigation. Such an investigation is critical to restoring the reputation of both the Bureau and DOJ in the eyes of the American people.
We applaud the Attorney General for demonstrating his commitment to this investigation by selecting an individual outside of Washington, D.C. to lead the review. We think it is important that Mr. Huber report directly to the Attorney General since the Attorney General, as the head of the Justice Department, reserves the right to appoint a special counsel in the future.
In the meantime we intend to continue our investigation into the decisions made and not made by DOJ in 2016 and 2017.
The news comes on the heels of OIG’s announcement Wednesday it would open a review of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court application that led to the surveillance of one-time Trump associate Carter Page.