Attorney General Jeff Sessions is leaving open the possibility that a special counsel could be appointed to look into Clinton Foundation dealings and an Obama-era uranium deal, the Justice Department said, in responding to concerns from Republican lawmakers.
The department said in a letter to the House Judiciary Committee yesterday that Sessions had directed senior federal prosecutors to "evaluate certain issues" raised in recent weeks by members of Congress, which include allegations that the Clinton Foundation benefited from a years-old uranium transaction involving a Russian-backed company.
President Donald Trump himself has repeatedly used social media to urge the Justice Department to investigate the deal, including in a series of Twitter posts this month in which he lamented not having more direct influence over the affairs of the law enforcement agency.
The prosecutors will report to Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and recommend whether any new investigations should be opened, whether any matters currently under investigation require additional resources and whether it might be necessary to appoint a special counsel to oversee a probe, according to a letter the Judiciary Committee's Republican chairman, Rep. Robert Goodlatte.
Any appointment of a new special counsel, particularly in response to calls from members of Congress or from Trump himself, is likely to lead to criticism complaints about an undue political influence on a department that is meant to function outside of any partisan sway or demand.
Though the Justice Department falls within the executive branch, and its priorities are historically in line with those of the president, the White House is not supposed to influence the decisions of prosecutors on any particular cases.
The Justice Department sought to address those concerns in its letter, with Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd saying that the department "will never evaluate any matter except on the facts and the law."
"Professionalism, integrity and public confidence in the department's work is critical for us, and no priority is higher," he added.
Nonetheless, the action follows a series of critical public statements by Trump that observers said blurred the bright line between the White House and the Justice Department.
In recent weeks, he has repeatedly weighed in on Twitter on Justice Department business to call for investigations of Democrats and has challenged Sessions to be more aggressive in going after his political opponents, expressing particular support for investigating the Clinton Foundation. He has also suggested at times that Sessions' job could be in jeopardy.
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