Two powerful House Republicans are pressuring Attorney General Jeff Sessions to appoint a prosecutor to investigate the FBI's 2016 decision to spy on Carter Page, a former campaign aide to President Donald Trump.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte and House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy sent a letter Tuesday to Sessions and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, urging them to name a special counsel to review Republicans' allegations that the FBI misled a federal judge to obtain a warrant to conduct surveillance of Page, whose contacts with Kremlin-connected Russians had drawn agents' scrutiny.
"We think this is a very serious matter regarding conduct by the FBI and by some in the Department of Justice that calls for the appointment of a special counsel who will have subpoena and prosecutorial powers," Goodlatte told reporters in his Capitol office.
The allegations of FBI misconduct were first laid out in a memo prepared by House Intelligence Committee Republicans and made public after Trump declassified the documents. Democrats have accused the GOP of omitting crucial context to paint a misleading picture of the agency's conduct and released their own memo describing the FBI's actions as proper.
The decision by the two prominent chairmen to seek a special counsel escalates the confrontation between Congress and the Justice Department and drives up the pressure on Sessions, who last week weathered a Twitter attack from Trump for refusing to assign Justice Department prosecutors to the matter. The Justice Department, Sessions said, had deferred to an internal watchdog, Inspector General Michael Horowitz, to review the FBI's handling of Page.
Gowdy and Goodlatte said only a special prosecutor would have the authority to compel testimony from former officials, such as former FBI Director James Comey or his outgoing deputy Andrew McCabe. They said that although the special counsel would have the ability to investigate crimes — and Gowdy said there would have to be a "suspicion of potential criminality" to initiate a special counsel — the investigator could also probe "subcriminal" matters.
"This is about the American people’s faith in an unbiased way that the highest laws of the land are enforced," Goodlatte said.