Top House Democrats on Friday raised concerns that Attorney General Jeff Sessions violated the law and lied under oath to Congress if he directly participated in President Donald Trump's decision to fire FBI director James Comey.
Sessions reportedly recommended earlier this week that Trump fire Comey amid the investigation into alleged Russian election interference. On Thursday, Trump told NBC's Lester Holt that he had planned to do it "regardless," although he credited the recommendation to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. His statement raised numerous questions, chief among which was whether Sessions inserted himself into the probe despite pledging in March to recuse himself after he was found to have lied during his confirmation hearings in January.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Ga.), the ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) on Friday sent a letter (pdf) to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein raising "grave concerns" over the news.
"If the facts now being reported are accurate, it appears that the attorney general's actions in recommending that President Trump fire director Comey may have contradicted his sworn testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee at his confirmation hearing, breached the public recusal he made before the American people, and violated the law enacted by Congress to prevent conflicts of interest at the Department of Justice," Cummings and Conyers wrote.
Cummings and Conyers said Sessions may have violated Section 528 of title 28 of the United States Code, which require the DOJ to establish rules that disqualify "any officer or employee of the Department of Justice...from participation in a particular investigation or prosecution if such participation may result in a personal, financial, or political conflict of interest, or the appearance thereof."
The penalty for violating that law could be removal from office.
"Since the attorney general previously recused himself from these matters—and since he may not sit in judgment on his own failure to comply with the law—we request that you, as the acting attorney general in this matter, report to us on the steps that must now be followed to address this apparent abuse," the lawmakers wrote.
"We recognize that the attorney general's actions have thrust you into a very delicate position with respect to enforcing the law of the land against your superior," they added. "In this case, however, the attorney general previously recused himself from these matters, leaving you with the solemn obligation to fulfill your responsibilities to the Department of Justice and the nation."
Their concerns were echoed in the Senate.
"Attorney General Sessions should not have had any involvement in this decision at all," Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), said Friday. "He recused himself. And yet he inserted himself in this firing."
And Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) tweeted on Wednesday, "Sessions said he’d recuse himself from anything to do with Russia. It’s clear he did not. Calling for him to resign (again)."
Earlier this week, the watchdog group Public Citizen called for Sessions' firing, saying his involvement meant that "we've just plunged into a constitutional crisis."
"Sessions must be removed from office immediately. He violated his pledge to recuse himself from matters related to the Russia investigation," Public Citizen's president Robert Weissman said. "This is a test for America."