House Democrats are suggesting that Attorney General Jeff Sessions could be removed from office for the role he played in President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey.
The suggestion, made in a letter released Thursday by two senior Democrats and signed by 32 others, is directed to Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who investigates misconduct. The letter asks Horowitz to consider “whether Attorney General Jeff Sessions violated his recusal from matters relating to the presidential campaigns in 2016 when he participated in President Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey.”
The letter notes an intent to “make clear that our request is separate and apart from Special Counsel [Robert] Mueller’s investigation which concerns only whether any criminal acts occurred.”
They instead are focused on “the protocols governing recusals” at the department. The letter states that, “According to this law, the administrative penalty for any Department official who violates such a recusal could be termination.”
Sessions appeared to address the question in recent testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee. “The recusal involved one case involved in the Department of Justice and in the FBI. They conduct thousands of investigations. I’m the Attorney General of the United States. It’s my responsibility to our Judiciary Committee and other committees to ensure that the department is run properly,” he said.
It is a known fact that interference in our election will happen again if we do not take serious steps to prevent it. The voters did not send us here to sit on the sidelines while our government is getting attacked
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md.
Thursday’s letter was signed by the ranking Democrats on the House Oversight and House Judiciary committees, Rep. Elijah Cummings, of Maryland and Rep. John Conyers Jr., of Michigan. In it, they restated Sessions’ own terms of recusal.
“The Attorney General has made clear repeatedly in broad and unequivocal terms that he recused himself from all matters involving both the Trump and Clinton presidential campaigns,” the letter states. “Collaborating directly with President Trump to fire Director Comey” indicated a “lapse in judgment by our nation’s top law enforcement official.” The letter noted Sessions’ involvement also “violated multiple promises made by the Attorney General and his aides.”
The letter says Sessions made a pledge not to get involved in matters involving former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton during his under-oath Senate confirmation process, and also on March 2 when he announced his recusal “from any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States.”
The letter was signed by senior Democrats, and copied to the Republican chairmen of the two influential committees. For Cummings, it is the third investigative letter released in recent weeks to be sent out without a chairman’s co-signature.
Last week, Cummings sent a letter to White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus saying he has serious concerns about whether the White House is “properly safeguarding classified information,” and requesting information about the security clearances of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, senior adviser Jared Kushner and other officials. A couple of days before that, he co-signed a letter asking companies Flynn had represented for records dealing with a Saudi nuclear deal the letter said he had not properly disclosed.
Members of Congress do not need bipartisan input to ask questions of government, but it increases the likelihood of a response, or at least a swift response. There has been talk around Congress that Cummings’s investigative efforts suffered a blow when Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, was replaced as the chairman of the Oversight Committee by Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C. Gowdy, in public hearings, has appeared to be less open to congressional efforts regarding Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion by members of Trump’s team.
Asked for comment, an aide on the House oversight committee said Gowdy “had different takes on these issues so we didn’t sign the letters this time but look forward to continjuing [the committee’s] practice of sending bipartisan letters.”
Cummings indicated in an email response that Gowdy was concerned about interfering with the criminal investigation being run by Special Counsel Mueller.
Cummings disagreed with that concern. He said Rosenstein “made it clear when he met with Members of Congress that he welcomed the important role Congress must play in this attack on our system of government that has existed and worked for over 200 years,” adding that he agrees with Gowdy that it is important not to “interfere with the criminal investigation.
“But in this case, there are three big issues that must be investigated: Russian interference in our electoral system, possible collusion with the Russians, and whether there was any attempt to cover it up.”
Cummings said investigating all angles of the matter is important.
“It is a known fact that interference in our election will happen again if we do not take serious steps to prevent it,” he said. “The voters did not send us here to sit on the sidelines while our government is getting attacked.”
This letter makes clear that after Sessions’ recusal, the Justice Department sent out a note to supervisors saying, “You should instruct members of your staff not to brief the Attorney General (or other officials in the office of the Attorney General) about …any such matters.”
Yet, the letter notes, White House documents indicate Sessions “had direct conversations” with the Deputy Attorney General about Comey’s actions relating to the FBI’s investigation of Secretary Clinton.
The letter discusses the highly public letter Sessions sent to Trump “recommending that he remove Director Comey” and cited reasons given in a memo from Rosenstein. It quoted that memo: “As you and I have discussed, however, I cannot defend the Director’s handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton’s emails.”