Senate Judiciary Republicans were not eager to join a Trump attorney’s calls Tuesday that a second special counsel be appointed to investigate potential conflicts at the Justice Department.
Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley has called for a special counsel to probe the so-called “Uranium One” deal, but beyond that, the support for a second special counsel among senators charged with DOJ oversight was lukewarm at best.
Democrats, not surprisingly, blasted the idea as an attempt by President Trump to undermine Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, which already has resulted in charges against four Trump associates.
“It’s an absurd effort to distract and deflect from the special counsel’s investigation. It is patently ridiculous,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told TPM.
The lawyer who is calling for a second special counsel, Jay Sekulow — a personal attorney for Trump who often spearheads the media spin for the President — said that his concerns are not rooted in the Mueller team specifically, but rather questions Republicans have raised about the FBI’s and the Justice Department’s conduct before Mueller took over the Russia probe.
Sekulow has pointed specifically to reports about Bruce Ohr, a DOJ official whose wife worked for the firm behind the Trump-Russia dossier. Ohr, according to Fox News, met secretly with the founder of the firm and with the ex-spy who assembled the dossier Sekulow was speaking as Trump’s personal attorney, and not for the White House legal team also tasked with dealing with Mueller’s probe.
Ty Cobb, the White House attorney focused on Mueller’s probe, told TPM that “there are no plans to replace” Mueller.
Lawmakers, including those in the President’s party, had previously signaled that they weren’t interested in dealing with the firestorm that Trump would create if he fired Mueller. The reception to Sekulow’s idea for a second special counsel was only nominally more enthusiastic Tuesday, with lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee suggesting that there are other avenues to investigate the conflicts.
“I support investigating the issue, I don’t necessarily believe we need a special counsel,” said Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA), a Judiciary Committee member. “We’ve got a whole bunch of fine lawyers at the Justice Department and a whole bunch of fine agents at the FBI. I am not convinced that we need a special counsel.”
Fellow committee member Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who’s retiring in 2018 and has been critical of Trump, answered a terse “no,” when asked by TPM if a second special counsel was necessary.
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) told TPM that he didn’t “have any concerns” looking into the conflict issues raised by Sekulow, “either through an investigation through the current channels, as determined by the Attorney General, or a Special Counsel.”
Blumenthal pointed to the department’s inspector general, who is currently probing the DOJ’s handling of 2016-related inquiries, as “the proper way [for Trump] to bring a complaint.”
Sekulow, however, pushed back on the idea that the inspector general could handle his concerns.
“It’s the nature and the scope of what’s happened here,” Sekulow told TPM, pointing to the reports about Ohr. “It needs more than an inspector general.”
He’s found an ally in Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a Senate Judiciary subcommittee chair and frequent golf partner of Trump’s, who tweeted Friday his own call for a separate special counsel for “Clinton email scandal, Uranium One, role of Fusion GPS, and FBI and DOJ bias during 2016 campaign.”
And there’s plenty of pressure outside of the GOP Senate caucus for the Justice Department to set up a counterweight to Mueller, as he charges forward with his own probe.
House Judiciary Republicans grilled FBI Director Chris Wray with questions of anti-Trump bias at a hearing last week, with Wray responding by deferring to the inspector general’s probe. House Republicans have also launched an investigation into the Obama-era “Uranium One” deal, after flimsy allegations that Hillary Clinton played an inappropriate role in greenlighting a transaction related to the U.S. uranium supply.
Fox News, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, and other conservative outlets have blanketed their coverage with criticism of Mueller, as well as of the broader Justice Department and the FBI.
“What they’re trying to do is destroy the [Special Counsel] and the effort that’s going on,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the top Judiciary Democrat, said. “I’ve listened to certain TV stations, I’ve seen that happening. I’ve seen op-ed pieces written and all of the sudden the most respected Bob Mueller has been castigated, things taken out of proportion.”