Seventeen years ago, at a hearing inquiring into a largely forgotten controversy surrounding then-Vice President Al Gore, then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) laid out a concise case for why an independent prosecutor is needed to investigate Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
The hearing involved a disagreement over whether Gore knowingly made false statements during an investigation into the 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign’s fundraising. After then-Attorney General Janet Reno investigated the matter, she determined that an independent prosecutor was not warranted because “the evidence fails to provide any reasonable support for the conclusion that the Vice President may have lied.”
During the hearing, Sessions laid out a standard that, he believed, should govern appointments of independent counsel.
He argued that an independent investigator should be appointed when the attorney general is called upon to investigate the president, for example, because of the president’s power over the attorney general.
I will add one more thing about the Attorney General. I remember 2 years ago, I believe, in this room, maybe 3 years ago, and I reminded her when we were raising the question of the need for an independent counsel that she served at the pleasure of the President of the United States. That angered her and she did not like that, but that is a plain fact.
The Attorney General was called upon to investigate the person who could remove her from office just like that, and that is why an independent counsel should have been appointed.
Nearly two decades later, a remarkably similar situation has arisen. Sessions potentially faces criminal charges for perjury or for making false statements to Congress regarding his communications with the Russian ambassador. And Sessions leads the very same agency, the Department of Justice, that would ordinarily investigate alleged violations of federal law.
Now, he stands in a very similar position of power over federal prosecutors that President Clinton once held over Reno.
Though Sessions lacks the power to call for an truly independent prosecutor — the law authorizing independent counsel expired in 1999 — there are a number of steps he can take right away to ensure that any investigation into his conduct is as independent as possible. He can immediately recuse himself from the investigation into his own alleged misconduct, and he can urge his deputy to appoint a special prosecutor to look into this matter — and to not interfere with that special prosecutor in any way.
It’s the only way Sessions can remain true to the standard he laid out in 2000.
(HT: David Williams)