Jeff Sessions, U.S. attorney general, speaks during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Sessions Defends Integrity After Trump Attack Over FISA Probe

(Bloomberg) -- Jeff Sessions defended his work as U.S. attorney general after President Donald Trump assailed him for not ordering the Justice Department to investigate the agency’s use of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in its Russia probe.

Trump accused the attorney general Wednesday of fumbling the investigation by leaving it to an independent inspector general. Sessions, who has been the subject of periodic attacks by Trump and repeated rumors that he’s on the verge of dismissal, responded with a statement defending himself and the Justice Department.

“We have initiated the appropriate process that will ensure complaints against this department will be fully and fairly acted upon if necessary,” the former Republican senator said. “As long as I am the attorney general, I will continue to discharge my duties with integrity and honor.”

Hours earlier Trump had unleashed his latest assault on the nation’s top law enforcement official.

“Why is A.G. Jeff Sessions asking the Inspector General to investigate potentially massive FISA abuse?” the U.S. president wrote in a tweet that was also critical of the IG, Michael Horowitz. “Will take forever, has no prosecutorial power and already late with reports on Comey etc. Isn’t the I.G. an Obama guy? Why not use Justice Department lawyers? DISGRACEFUL!”

Horowitz is investigating the FBI and Justice Department’s handling of its 2016 probe into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email arrangements. Trump fired FBI director James Comey last year in part, he said, because of that investigation.

Attacked, Mocked

Trump has repeatedly attacked and mocked Sessions and has said he wouldn’t have nominated him as attorney general if he’d known Sessions would later recuse himself from overseeing the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign.

Sessions’s recusal was followed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s decision to name Robert Mueller as special counsel. Sessions has offered at least once to resign.

In a tweet last July, Trump taunted, “Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes (where are E-mails & DNC server) & Intel leakers!”

For Sessions, the public criticism by the president is offset by a job that gives him a chance to pursue his career-long agenda of conservative positions on law enforcement issues, from restrictions on immigration to enforcement of federal laws against marijuana.

‘Fair, Fact Centric’

Trump’s criticism of the inspector general was rebutted by the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Trey Gowdy. The Republican lawmaker, who regularly clashed with the Obama administration and Clinton, defended Horowitz as an impartial investigator.

“I have had a number of interactions with Inspector General Horowitz, including as recently as earlier this month,” Gowdy said in a statement. “He has been fair, fact centric, and appropriately confidential with his work.”

“He was confirmed by the U.S. Senate without a single dissent,” Gowdy said. “I have complete confidence in him and hope he is given the time, the resources and the independence to complete his work.”

The Office of Inspector General says on its website that it’s “a statutorily created independent entity whose mission is to detect and deter waste, fraud, abuse, and misconduct in DOJ programs and personnel, and to promote economy and efficiency in those programs.”

Fact-Checking Dueling Claims on Alleged Bias in the Russia Probe

Sessions told reporters on Tuesday that the inspector general would look into Republican claims that FISA standards were abused in the early stages of the FBI investigation into Trump campaign associates and ties to Russians. Trump’s decision to weigh in adds new fuel to concerns about presidential interference that could undermine the Justice Department’s independence.

“The inspector general will take that as one of the matters they’ll deal with,” Sessions said on Tuesday, concluding that it is “just the appropriate thing.”

Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee, led by Chairman Devin Nunes, have alleged that the FBI and Justice Department were biased against Trump in their handling of the probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.

A memo that the Republican lawmakers released on Feb. 2 asserts that officials relied primarily on an unverified dossier prepared by former British spy Christopher Steele to obtain a surveillance warrant on Carter Page, a foreign policy adviser on Trump’s campaign. The dossier was largely funded by Clinton’s campaign and Democrats.

Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee, led by their top-ranking member, Adam Schiff, disputed the claims in their own memo, released in redacted form on Saturday.

Democrats say the Steele dossier wasn’t part of the FBI’s decision to open its counterintelligence investigation, which began in July 2016, well before the bureau received the dossier in September of that the year. While the dossier was cited in the FBI’s initial FISA warrant application in October 2016, the bureau “cited multiple sources to support the case for surveilling Page” and made only “narrow use” of information from Steele’s sources, according to the Democratic memo.

Page had been on the FBI’s radar for many years and a Russian intelligence officer targeted him for recruitment, according to the Democratic memo. The Page warrant was also renewed three times -- in January 2017, April 2017 and June 2017 -- which requires evidence that the surveillance was bearing fruit.

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