The FBI’s abuse of snooping laws during the 2016 presidential campaign was so egregious that it merits a special counsel to conduct a full accounting, two top House Republicans said in an official request Tuesday to Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, chairman of the Oversight Committee, and Rep. Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said the Justice Department, which oversees the FBI, was involved in some of the decisions and so it cannot investigate itself.
They said the investigation should probe “decisions made or not made” by the Justice Department in the run-up to the election and in its aftermath.
“There is evidence of bias, trending toward animus, among those charged with investigating serious cases,” the two lawmakers said. “There is evidence political opposition research was used in court filings. There is evidence this political opposition research was neither vetted before it was used nor fully revealed to the relevant tribunal.”
They acknowledged the call for a special counsel was extraordinary, but said this is exactly the kind of case where it’s appropriate, given that there is no way the Justice Department itself could conduct the probe.
Mr. Sessions, the attorney general, has already tasked the inspector general with a probe, but Mr. Goodlatte and Mr. Gowdy said that office does not have the authority to probe or compel cooperation from former employees — something the two lawmakers said would likely be needed, given some of the key figures who are no longer serving in government.
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Former FBI Director James B. Comey, former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, former acting Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, former acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente and current Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein all signed off on applications to snoop on Carter Page, who had been a Trump campaign adviser.
The surveillance started after he left the campaign.
Should Mr. Sessions appoint a special counsel, it would be in addition to the investigation already underway by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is looking into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Democrats blasted the request as political posturing, and an attempt to distract from Mr. Mueller’s investigation.
“I can understand why House Republicans hope that DOJ will swoop in and save them from this mess — but that is not what the Department of Justice is for,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.
Republicans on Capitol Hill began agitating for a special counsel after the GOP members of the House intelligence committee concluded that the FBI relied on a politically funded anti-Trump dossier in 2016 as evidence to help obtain a secret spying warrant on a Trump campaign figure.
That warrant was renewed by both Obama and Trump Justice Department officials.
Mr. Gowdy, who had access to the secret information, has said the FBI and Justice Department didn’t tell the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court all the appropriate details about the dossier’s origin.
Mr. Gowdy has also said that without the dossier, the court would not have approved the FISA warrant.
Rep. Adam B. Schiff, who as the ranking Democrat on the intelligence committee also had access to the secret information, wrote a memo to counter the GOP’s version of events. He said some of the details of the anti-Trump dossier were provided to the court, and said the dossier was only a small part of the request for the FISA warrant.
On Tuesday Mr. Schiff accused Republicans of bending to President Trump’s wishes, after the president last week tweeted that an inspector general probe wasn’t enough.
“This may help serve the president’s interests, but does nothing to serve the national interest,” he said.
He said Republicans should instead focus on attempting to stop more Russian interference with U.S. elections, particularly with the 2018 midterm contests looming in November.