Sunday, April 01, 2018

The real reason behind Sessions’ special counsel decision

By Michael Goodwin | New York Post

Newspaper and television headlines are blunt instruments that leave little room for nuance.

Throw in the ­anti-Trump bias and it’s no surprise that nearly all media followed the same simplistic thinking to describe Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision on whether to appoint a second special counsel.

His answer was “no,” the chorus declared, case closed. Par for its partisan course, The New York Times twisted the knife, saying “Sessions Spurns GOP.”

Maybe, maybe not.

The truth is that Sessions’ decision is far more complex than reports suggest.

In fact, the good news is that the process he set in motion likely will result in the appointment of a second special counsel to probe the Justice Department and the FBI. The only question is timing.

I say that because Sessions wants first to determine whether the situation meets the legal standard of “extraordinary circumstances” involving conflicts of interest that would allow him to move an investigation outside normal channels.

I believe the standard will be easy to meet because there are numerous smoking guns showing that the 2016 investigations into both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were rigged by top government officials.

We already know about many of those smoking guns: The prominent if not exclusive use of the Democratic-funded Russian dossier in the FISA court application to spy on Trump campaign associate Carter Page; the politicized talk by FBI agents of an “insurance plan” in case Trump won; and the many irregularities in the Clinton email probe, including the fact that the letter exonerating her was written before she and most witnesses were interviewed.

Then there are the suspicions surrounding Andrew McCabe, the former deputy director of the FBI fired for reportedly lying to investigators.

Sessions, of course, is not the most articulate man on the planet, so it does take time and patience to cut through his fog and understand the intent behind the ­layered plan he establishes.

Rather than simply saying yes or no to the request from GOP lawmakers for a new special counsel, he unfolds his response in a densely written, four-page letter.

On page two, he gets to the first relevant fact: a reminder that he recently asked the inspector general of the Justice Department, the well-respected Michael Horowitz, to review whether any laws were broken or policies violated when officials made their request to spy on Carter Page.

It takes Sessions another full page to come to his second reminder: that last November, he asked unnamed senior prosecutors to “evaluate certain issues” flagged by Congress in the Clinton and Trump probes.

These prosecutors, he says, have a wide berth to see which matters, if any, should be investigated again, and whether to recommend the appointment of a special counsel.

Only then, for the first time, does Sessions reveal that the head of that team is the US attorney in Utah, John Huber. He notes that Huber twice was confirmed unanimously by the Senate, once in 2015 and again in 2017, and has received numerous commendations.

In plain English, Huber was first appointed by Barack Obama, and then by Trump, meaning he is not a partisan warrior.

Sessions’ emphasis on Huber’s nonpolitical history could be boilerplate assurance, but in the context it means something more.

Given the partisan divide over special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Trump, Sessions is trying to avoid a similar fate if Huber recommends a second special counsel.

By stressing Huber’s credibility, I suspect the attorney general is laying the public and political groundwork for such a decision.

It is also noteworthy that Sessions says Huber will work outside Washington, meaning he won’t be part of the swamp, but will partner with ­Inspector General Horowitz.

That gives the probe a double-barreled, clean-hands approach and the widest possible range of power to subpoena both current and former officials, as well as prosecute them.

Sessions also says he regularly receives updates on the probes, meaning he is taking personal ­responsibility for the outcome.
While many Republicans and Trump supporters are unhappy with the decision, they should hold their fire.

Although I also believe a second special counsel is necessary to get to the truth about suspect conduct by former FBI Director James Comey and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, I am reasonably confident Sessions eventually will come to that conclusion.

And when he does, he will reach it on the basis of work done by proven professionals, Horowitz and Huber.

Democrats will still kick and scream, but fair-minded Americans will likely trust the result.

My one reservation is time.

If Horowitz and Huber move quickly — say, in three months or so — and discover there is a need for a special counsel, then the ­delay will have been worthwhile.

But if the preliminary assessment drags on for six, seven, eight months or a year, that would be too late to be of any real value, even if a special counsel follows.

Just as the Mueller probe needs to come to a conclusion, this second probe cannot be allowed to drag on endlessly.

The two clouds hanging over Washington — whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia during the election and the conduct of government officials who apparently abused their powers to try to defeat him and elect Clinton — must be resolved as soon as possible.

No matter what he eventually decides, Sessions must move quickly to reveal the facts and bring clear accountability to anyone found culpable. Otherwise, trust in federal law enforcement will continue to erode.

The clock is ticking.


5 Things to Know About the Prosecutor Probing FBI, Justice Department Actions

By Fred Lucas| The Daily Signal

Photo: U.S. Attorney John Huber

While Attorney General Jeff Sessions has decided to hold off on naming a second special counsel, he reached well outside Washington for a federal prosecutor to investigate possible wrongdoing by the FBI and Justice Department.

“The [Justice] Department is not above criticism and it can never be that the department conceals errors when they occur,” AG Jeff Sessions says.

Sessions announced Thursday in a letter to members of Congress that, rather than name another special counsel, he has tapped Utah U.S. Attorney John Huber to work with the Justice Department’s inspector general to review multiple issues of Justice Department and FBI conduct.

The conduct under scrutiny occurred during the Obama administration as FBI and Justice officials investigated matters connected with 2016 presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

“We understand that the [Justice] Department is not above criticism and it can never be that the department conceals errors when they occur,” Sessions said in the letter to Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa; House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.; and House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C.

“I am confident that Mr. Huber’s review will include a full, complete, and objective evaluation of these matters in a manner that is consistent with the law and facts,” Sessions wrote, adding:

I receive regular updates from Mr. Huber and upon the conclusion of his review, will receive his recommendations as to whether any matters not currently under investigation should be opened, whether any matters currently under investigation require further resources, or whether any matters merit the appointment of a special counsel.

Huber will work in coordination with Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who has been examining related issues, Sessions said.
Here are five sets of background information about Huber and his investigation:

1. Obama Appointee Before Trump Appointee

President Barack Obama nominated Huber, then 47, to serve as U.S. attorney for Utah in 2015, and he was confirmed by the Senate that June.
Utah’s two Republican senators, Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, both gave him their highest recommendations.

Huber offered his resignation in March 2017 to allow the new Trump Justice Department to decide his fate. The administration decided to keep him.

Last June, Trump renominated Huber for the position and the Senate confirmed him in August by a unanimous vote.

2. Ascent During Legal Career

Huber gained some national prominence in the Justice Department before his appointment as U.S. attorney. Two previous U.S. attorneys general, John Ashcroft in 2004 and Eric Holder in 2010, recognized his prosecutorial efforts, according to the department.

While serving as U.S. attorney, Huber was on the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee under both the Obama and Trump administrations. In 2017, Sessions named Huber vice chairman of the panel.

Huber also led the committee’s Terrorism and National Security Subcommittee as well as the interagency Domestic Terrorism Executive Committee.

Huber provided training to other federal prosecutors nationally on issues of domestic violence, national security, and violent crimes.

Last year, he was chairman of the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area that serves Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and Utah.

A 1995 graduate of the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law, Huber began his career as a prosecutor in the office of the county attorney of Weber County, Utah. He later served as chief prosecutor for West Valley City, Utah.

Huber became an assistant U.S. attorney in 2002, and earned a national reputation for prosecutions of violent crimes and expertise in national security issues.

3. Differences From Special Counsel

Special counsel Robert Mueller, a former FBI director, is probing alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government during the 2016 election season.

After Sessions recused himself because of his own advisory role in the campaign, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein selected Mueller as special counsel in part because he was not currently working in the Justice Department.

Sessions’ choice of a prosecutor inside the Justice Department but outside Washington is similar to past precedents. One difference is that Huber will be working with Horowitz, the department’s inspector general.

Inspectors general have investigative power within a single agency, in this case the Justice Department. But an inspector general can’t prosecute individuals or subpoena information.

As a prosecutor, Huber can expand the investigation into individuals or institutions outside the Justice Department itself. A prosecutor has the power to call a grand jury to subpoena information and issue indictments.

This is similar to the Bush administration Justice Department’s appointment of Patrick Fitzgerald, a U.S. attorney from Illinois, to investigate the leaking of CIA employee Valerie Plame’s name.

4. On His Investigative Plate

The Sessions letter comes just days after the department announced that the inspector general was investigating how the FBI applied the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to spy on a former Trump campaign aide, Carter Page.

The FBI obtained a warrant that relied heavily on an opposition research document–the Christopher Steele dossier–funded by Clinton and the Democratic National Committee.

A declassified House intelligence committee memo alleged that FBI and Justice officials did not fully inform the FISA court that information they used in seeking the warrant to spy was based on a political document.

Former top FBI officials also could face legal scrutiny.

Acting on the recommendation of the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, Sessions fired Andrew McCabe as FBI deputy director for allegedly lying to the inspector general about media leaks.

McCabe said former FBI Director James Comey authorized media leaks. Days before being fired by Trump, Comey testified under oath to the Senate Judiciary Committee that he did not leak or direct leaks.

Uranium One, a Russia-connected firm that had close ties to the Clinton Foundation, also is expected to be part of the probe, the Salt Lake City Tribune reported.

Rosenstein was the U.S. attorney for Maryland in 2004, and prosecuted Uranium One associates.

5. Initial Reaction From Congress

Lee, also a former assistant U.S. attorney in Utah, worked with Huber.
“U.S. Attorney John Huber is a capable public servant and a man of great integrity,” Lee said in a written statement to The Daily Signal.

Hatch, the senior senator from Utah, praised the selection.

“Attorney General Jeff Sessions revealed today in a letter to Congress that United States Attorney John Huber, Utah’s top federal prosecutor, has been leading the investigation of certain issues related to actions by the Department of Justice in 2016 and 2017,” Hatch said in a public statement, adding:

Mr. Huber brings decades of experience to his latest, and now very public, assignment. Most importantly, he brings the independent perspective of an accomplished federal prosecutor who has spent his career far removed from the politics of Washington. Attorney General Sessions has picked the right man for the job. I am confident that Mr. Huber will perform these duties with the utmost integrity, and I look forward to learning the results of his work at the appropriate time.

Two House chairmen who asked for a special counsel said naming Huber to review the matter was a step in the right direction.

In a joint statement, Goodlatte and Gowdy said:

While we continue to believe the appointment of a second special counsel is necessary, this is a step in the right direction. We expect that U.S. Attorney Huber, given his reputation, will conduct an independent and thorough investigation. Such an investigation is critical to restoring the reputation of both the [FBI] and DOJ in the eyes of the American people.

We applaud the Attorney General for demonstrating his commitment to this investigation by selecting an individual outside of Washington, D.C., to lead the review. We think it is important that Mr. Huber report directly to the Attorney General since the Attorney General, as the head of the Justice Department, reserves the right to appoint a special counsel in the future.

In the meantime, we intend to continue our investigation into the decisions made and not made by DOJ in 2016 and 2017.