Unwilling to let Attorney General Jeff Sessions off the hook amid the growing scandal over President Donald Trump's firing of former FBI director James Comey, a group of Democratic senators is demanding a probe into whether Sessions violated his vow to recuse himself from matters related to Russia's alleged 2016 election interference.
"It is clear that Attorney General Sessions had an active role in the termination of Comey," the 11 senators wrote in a letter sent Tuesday to Department of Justice inspector general Michael Horowitz. Among Trump's justifications for Comey's dismissal was a recommendation from Sessions, sent May 9, 2017.
"This seems to be in direct violation of Attorney General Sessions' recusal from 'any existing or future investigations of any matter relating in any way to the campaigns for president of the United States'," they continued. "At the time of his termination, director Comey was actively leading the FBI's investigations into both the attempts by the Russian government to influence the 2016 presidential campaign, and the ties of members/employees/representatives of the Trump campaign had, or have, with the Russian government or Russian intelligence services."
The senators went on:
It is imperative that the American people have faith in the institutions that are investigating the influence a hostile foreign power may have had on our presidential campaign, election, and the current administration of President Trump. We believe the Attorney General's involvement in the termination of director Comey has injected the exact "partiality" in these investigations he claimed to wish to avoid. Further, the president's recent admission that Comey was fired, at least in part, due to the Russia investigation only raises further questions about the role of the Attorney General in the termination, his willingness to provide cover for a political decision, and both his and the Department of Justice's ability to perform an independent investigation.
The letter, spearheaded by Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), asks the inspector general to answer the following questions:
- To what extent is Attorney General Sessions required to recuse himself from investigations into matters related to the Trump campaign under 28 C.F.R. § 45.2, or any other relevant rules and regulations?
- What was the scope of Attorney General Sessions' publicly announced March 2, 2017 recusal?
- What is the timeline of Attorney General Sessions' involvement in the removal of FBI director James Comey? Did his involvement in director Comey's termination violate his recusal agreement or requirements, or other DOJ rules, regulations, and precedents?
Top House Democrats raised similar questions last week, as Common Dreams reported, though they directed their inquiries (pdf) to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) also wrote to Horowitz last week, asking him "to begin investigations into whether U.S. Attorney [Preet] Bharara, Acting Attorney General [Sally] Yates, or director Comey were fired due to political considerations or attempts to interfere in an ongoing investigation."
And many others have expressed outrage over Sessions' involvement in Comey's firing. In a piece this week, The Nation's John Nichols wrote that Sessions "cannot be allowed to remain in a position he obtained after deceiving the Senate Judiciary Committee and then dishonored by abandoning his own recusal." Multiple watchdog groups have called for Sessions to step down or be removed.