What’s the antidote for a special counsel probe that appears to have broadened beyond its mandate? The hair of the dog, natch. Republicans in Congress have demanded a probe into the Clintons’ activities with their foundation and the Uranium One sale for months, and the Department of Justice finally provided an answer. How about a pair of special counsels at the same time?
Collect the whole set!
Attorney General Jeff Sessions is entertaining the idea of appointing a second special counsel to investigate a host of Republican concerns — including alleged wrongdoing by the Clinton Foundation and the controversial sale of a uranium company to Russia — and has directed senior federal prosecutors to explore at least some of the matters and report back to him and his top deputy, according to a letter obtained by The Washington Post.
The revelation came in a response by the Justice Department to an inquiry from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who in July and again in September called for Sessions to appoint a second special counsel to investigate concerns he had related to the 2016 election and its aftermath.
The list of matters he wanted probed was wide ranging but included the FBI’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state, various dealings of the Clinton Foundation and several matters connected to the purchase of the Canadian mining company Uranium One by Russia’s nuclear energy agency. Goodlatte took particular aim at former FBI director James B. Comey, asking for the second special counsel to evaluate the leaks he directed about his conversations with President Trump, among other things.
In response, Assistant Attorney General Stephen E. Boyd wrote that Sessions had “directed senior federal prosecutors to evaluate certain issues raised in your letters,” and that those prosecutors would “report directly to the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General, as appropriate, and will make 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.”
Goodlatte has been demanding this step since the summer, when he and 19 of his House Republican colleagues signed a letter asking Sessions to take this step. At the time, they claimed to worry that Robert Mueller’s special counsel mandate wasn’t broad enough, a point with which Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, and Michael Flynn would undoubtedly disagree at the moment. Mueller has broadened it enough to prosecute Manafort and Gates under the rarely enforced Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) and for money laundering that took place well before the 2016 election cycle. Flynn’s likely to get indicted under the FARA statute. To them, the mandate looks pretty doggone broad.
Of course, it’s not a question of breadth, but of focus. Republicans want more focus on the Clintons’ alleged corruption, including the rather smelly relationship between the Clinton Foundation, Bill Clinton’s speaking career, and the Uranium One sale while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State. Trump has long pledged to go after Hillary for the e-mail server scandal, and demanded a special prosecutor on the campaign trail, prompting his fans to chant “Lock her up!” at his rallies. Since taking office, Trump has publicly scolded Sessions for not launching probes into the Clintons, which would be a first in American politics — having the winner of a presidential election try to prosecute his political opponents, deservedly or not. That’s a road that could change the nature of American politics for generations.
On the other hand, it’s tough to argue that the DoJ hasn’t been politicized before now, either. In that sense, a special counsel might be the least bad option on the table for Sessions, short of a flat-out refusal that would create an opening for Trump to cashier him. At least that puts up a firewall of sorts between the DoJ and the investigation, which might lend itself to more credibility in the eyes of the American electorate. However, we can also recall the Ken Starr probe and how credible that ended up after the Clintons and the media claimed that Starr was persecuting Bill Clinton over “just sex.” Don’t expect Clinton World to treat another special counsel with kid gloves, no matter how justified the probe might be.
We’ve already opened one Pandora’s Box with a special counsel in the Russia probe, an unavoidable choice after the sacking of James Comey in the middle of the FBI investigation. Rather than open up a second Pandora’s Box, why not have Congress fulfill its constitutional role by investigating Uranium One and the FBI’s actions in the Hillary Clinton investigation for itself? Goodlatte and Chuck Grassley have the authority to issue subpoenas and compel testimony, and the proper check on executive branch power has always been the legislature, not wildcards with little accountability coming out of the executive branch. If the idea is to have the same plague on both houses, fine, but plagues have a funny way of getting out of control … as do special counsels.