In a concession to conservatives clamoring for new investigations into Hillary Clinton’s emails and the Justice Department’s actions in the Russia investigation, Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions on Thursday named a federal prosecutor from Utah to head the review.
But he once again stopped short of naming a second special counsel, a move that many Republicans have been demanding for months. The latest move is unlikely to quiet the rising tide of anger on the right, a campaign fueled by the bitter Twitter messages of President Trump.
In a letter to the leaders of House and Senate committees, Sessions said he had named John W. Huber, the U.S. attorney for Utah, to lead the inquiry of the department’s handling of the probe into Clinton and the secret surveillance of Carter Page, a former Trump campaign aide.
Huber, a veteran prosecutor who once headed the national security section for the Justice Department, has been working on the case since November. Sessions said Huber would recommend whether to reopen or launch any new criminal investigations, and whether a second special counsel was warranted.
“We understand that the department is not above criticism and it can never be that the department conceals errors where they occur,” Sessions wrote.
Sessions’ letter was immediately criticized by Democrats as a political stunt meant to soothe Trump and to distract attention from the investigation into the Trump campaign’s dealings with Russia led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.
“He’s throwing meat out there to appease the president,” Rep. Eric Swalwell, a Democrat from California, told CNN.
The calls for a second counsel investigation have intensified as Republicans have begun to attack the FBI’s handling of the early days of the Russia investigation. The House Intelligence Committee has criticized the department for how it obtained a secret warrant to use spying tools on Carter Page, a former Trump campaign advisor under scrutiny for his ties to Russians.
Republicans have questioned the department’s use of material in a dossier compiled by a former British intelligence agent doing research funded by Democrats.
And the department’s inspector general has released text messages between two FBI employees involved in the Clinton and Trump investigations, in which they shared their low opinions about Trump and their horror at the prospect he could make it to the White House.
Last November, Assistant Atty. Gen. Stephen Boyd disclosed that prosecutors were reexamining the Clinton Foundation, Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of State, and the announcement by former FBI Director James B. Comey that criminal charges against Clinton were not justified.
Sessions, in his letter Thursday, repeated that a special counsel is supposed to be appointed only under “extraordinary circumstances.”
The department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, announced Wednesday that he would begin a review of the allegations regarding the Page warrant; he is nearing completion on an investigation of the department’s actions during the Clinton inquiry. Trump was dissatisfied with that decision, calling for Sessions to put prosecutors on the case.
Sessions said he is working with Horowitz on the case.