Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said there is insufficient basis to launch a special investigation of Hillary Clinton – dashing the hopes of Republicans who believe she should face the same scrutiny as Donald Trump and his administration.
Earlier this week, it was reported Mr Sessions was considering appointing a special counsel to examine Ms Clinton’s use of a private email server, various accusations levelled at the Clinton Foundation and the sale of uranium to Russia in 2010 when she was secretary of state. Many believed Mr Sessions was responding to Mr Trump, who had angrily told a radio interviewer it was “very discouraging to me” the Department of Justice was not “going after Hillary Clinton.”
But appearing before the House Judiciary Committee, Mr Sessions appeared to pour cold water on the idea of establishing such a probe, saying he did not believe there was a sufficient basis for doing so.
Mr Sessions was pressed by Republican congressman Jim Jordan from Ohio, who demanded to know “what it would take to get a special counsel”.
“It would take a factual basis that meets the standards of the appointment of a special counsel,” Mr Sessions replied.
The congressman said it was already known the Clinton campaign had paid the company that produced the so-called Steele Dossier, which contained a series of explosive allegations about Mr Trump, many of them gathered by a former British intelligence agent.
“That’s what it looks like, and I’m asking you: Doesn’t that warrant – in addition to all the things we know about James Comey in 2016 – doesn’t that warrant naming a second special counsel,” asked Mr Jordan.
Mr Sessions said: “That’s the only thing I can tell you, Mr Jordan. 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.”
The Attorney General then said Mr Comey was no longer the FBI Director and praised incumbent Chris Wray. But Mr Jordan would not be satisfied.
“He’s not here today, Attorney General Sessions, you are, and I’m asking for a special counsel,” he said.
Mr Sessions responded: “And I would say, ‘Looks like’ is not enough basis to appoint a special counsel.”
Brian Fallon, who served as Ms Clinton’s spokesman during the presidential election campaign, told The Independent he was unsure how much reassurance to take from Mr Sessions’ comments. He said while the interaction with Mr Jordan had suggested he did not support a federal probe, he said the Attorney General later refused to rule one out. “I think it’s too easy to breathe a sigh of relief,” he added.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller was appointed to head an investigation into Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign, after the President fired Mr Comey in May.
Mr Mueller has so far brought indictments against three people associated with the Trump campaign – former campaign manager Paul Manafort, his associate Rick Gates, and George Papadopolous, a former foreign policy adviser.
Mr Manafort and Mr Gates have denied charges of money laundering and conspiracy, while Mr Papadopolous pleaded guilty to a charge of lying to FBI investigators about his contacts last year with two people with apparently close ties to the Russian government.
On Tuesday, Mr Sessions admitted he was aware of contact between the campaign and Russian intermediaries, changing a previous statement about the extent of connections to Moscow.
Mr Sessions told the committee he recalled a meeting last year where Mr Papadopoulos had said he had connections with Moscow and could help arrange a meeting between Mr Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“I do now recall,” he said, according to Reuters. “But I have no clear recollection of the details of what he said during the meeting.”