Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks at the Justice Department in Washington, Thursday, March 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Susan Walsh

Sessions considers special counsel, but not for Trump

Updated
One of the oddities of 2017 is how much time Republicans have spent looking backwards. Donald Trump, for example, has invested an enormous amount of energy focusing on his predecessor, the 2016 election, and voter fraud that exists only in the president’s mind. House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), meanwhile, remains focused on Hillary Clinton’s email server from eight years ago.

And at the Justice Department, as Politico reports, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is apparently amenable to the idea of appointing a special counsel, not to investigate Trump’s scandals, but to look over the work done by Sessions’ predecessors.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Thursday that he would be open to bringing in an outside counselor to investigate the practices of his Department of Justice predecessors under former President Barack Obama.

Sessions was asked about such an arrangement during an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, who suggested that Sessions might ask outside counsel to look into the department under Attorneys General Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch.
According to the published transcript, Hewitt argued that the Obama era was “a bad eight years” for the Justice Department, specifically pointing to “the IRS case, the Fast and Furious case, Secretary Clinton’s server.” Hewitt, who didn’t appear to be kidding, asked, “How about an outside counsel, not connected to politics, to review the DOJ’s actions in those matters with authority to bring charges if underlying crimes are uncovered in the course of the investigation, and just generally to look at how the Department of Justice operated in the highly-politicized Holder-Lynch years?”

Sessions said he’s eager to “restore the independence and professionalism of the Department of Justice,” adding that he and his team would “consider” outside special counsel.

Hewitt argued that the IRS matter was a particular point of concern, to which the A.G. added that the story remains “a matter of real concern to me.”

Even by 2017 standards, this is remarkably misguided.

It’s admittedly possible that Sessions was being polite during the interview, and didn’t want to tell the conservative host, “That’s a dumb question” during a live interview.

But if the Alabama Republican was serious, reality should play at least some roll in the conversation – and the fact remains that the Obama-era controversies Hewitt referred remain far-right mirages. The IRS “scandal,” for example, was discredited years ago. Congressional Republicans tried to find evidence of wrongdoing, but they came up empty for a reason. Questions surrounding the “Fast and Furious” case, meanwhile, have already been answered, and Hillary Clinton’s email server protocols have been examined at a level of detail that defies rational explanation.

The idea that a special counsel might be needed to review controversies that don’t exist is, to put it mildly, bonkers.

But let’s not miss the forest for the trees here. Sessions is an attorney general who’s facing credible allegations that he lied under oath during his confirmation hearings. He also recently recused himself from an investigation surrounding Donald Trump and the scandal surrounding Russia’s efforts to put the current president in office.

Sessions is thinking about a possible special counsel for his DOJ predecessors, but he’s opposed to a special counsel to review ongoing controversies involving the administration he’s a part of?

I’m sure there will be conservatives who find the Hewitt-Sessions exchange compelling. They will be mistaken.

Postscript: A USA Today/Suffolk poll released this week found 58% of Americans support an independent inquiry of Trump’s Russia scandal, through a special prosecutor or a bipartisan commission. Recent polling from CNN and Quinnipiac showed similar results on the same question.

Jeff Sessions and Justice Department

Sessions considers special counsel, but not for Trump

Updated