Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday pushed back on complaints from Republicans that a special counsel has not been appointed to investigate Hillary Clinton, the Clinton Foundation and the FBI’s handling of the probe into her email use, and said the Justice Department still needs to “study what the facts are” before doing so.
“I would say ‘looks like’ is not enough basis to appoint a special counsel,” Sessions told Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, on Tuesday at the House Judiciary Committee when asked why the Justice Department hasn’t appointed a special counsel when it “looks like” there was wrongdoing.
Republicans have been calling on the Justice Department to tap a special counsel to investigate a number of issues related to the 2016 campaign and Clinton, including the FBI’s handling of its investigation into her email use, the so-called “Trump dossier,” the Obama-era uranium deal, and the Clinton Foundation.
Sessions told top federal prosecutors to look into whether a special counsel should be appointed. On Monday, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd sent the House Judiciary Committee a letter notifying chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., that Justice Department lawyers would make recommendations to Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein about whether a special counsel should be appointed or whether investigations should be opened.
At the hearing, Jordan pressed Sessions on what it would take to appoint a special counsel.
“It would take a factual basis that meets the standard of the appointment of a special counsel,” the attorney general said, without tying it to any particular investigation or issue.
Sessions noted that a special counsel has only been appointed twice before — the first for the government’s raid on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, in 1993, and the second for Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Sessions said both of those were “pretty special, factual situations.”
“You can have your idea, but sometimes we have to study what the facts are and to evaluate whether it meets the standard that requires a special counsel,” Sessions told Jordan.
When asked about appointing a special counsel later on in the hearing, Sessions clarified he was not taking a side on whether a special counsel should be named for matters referenced by congressional Republicans.
"I did not mean to suggest I was taking a side one way or the other on that subject," he said. "I was simply responding that we would have to have full and effective factual evaluation before we make a decision on whether or not a special counsel is required. I have made no prejudgment."