Schumer: Let Obama-Appointed Civil Servant Name a Special Prosecutor to Investigate Russian Meddling

By Susan Jones | March 2, 2017 | 11:26am EST
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) makes three demands at a March 2, 2017 news conference where he called for the recusal of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate Russian meddling in the U.S. election. (Screen grab from CNN)

( – Attorney General Jeff Sessions must recuse himself from the investigation into Russian influence on the U.S. election and allow an Obama appointee to choose an independent prosecutor, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told a news conference on Thursday.

“The information reported last night makes it clear beyond the shadow of a doubt that Attorney General Sessions cannot possibly lead an investigation into Russian interference in our elections or come anywhere near it,” Schumer said.

He noted that Sessions may now become a subject of that investigation, following disclosures that Sessions had contact with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. in July and September, while Sessions was advising the Trump campaign.

Sessions said on Thursday he never discussed campaign business with the Russian ambassador. But at his confirmation hearing in January, Sessions told Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), "I did not have communications with the Russians."

Schumer and other Democrats are furiously demanding that Sessions step aside and let an independent prosecutor look into alleged ties to Russia by Trump associates during the campaign.

“Because the Department of Justice should be beyond reproach, for the good of the country, Attorney General Sessions should resign,” Schumer told reporters on Thursday. But (regardless of) what everyone's views are on resignation, the most important thing we must do is ensure the integrity of the investigation. Has it already been compromised?” Schumer asked.

Schumer made three demands.

“First, the Justice Department must immediately appoint a special prosecutor. Given that Attorney General Sessions’ impartiality is compromised, that responsibility will fall to the Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente, who is a career civil servant originally appointed U.S. attorney by President Obama.”

Boente, nominated by President Obama in 2015 to serve as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, is also a Trump appointee.

After President Trump fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates in January for refusing to defend his executive order on immigration, Trump named Boente to replace Yates until Sessions was confirmed.

Schumer told reporters, “It is incumbent upon the acting attorney general to select a special prosecutor who is beyond reproach, completely impartial, without any significant ties to either party.

“The choice for special prosecutor will be scrutinized,” Schumer continued. “Even the hint of partiality in that choice -- even the hint that this person will not be able to get to the bottom of these troubling questions -- would be disqualified.

Schumer said the appointment of a special prosecutor is required by DOJ regulations, when a standard investigation would "present a conflict of interest for the department."

Second, Schumer said if the DOJ "drags its feet and refuses to appoint a special prosecutor, or select someone with insufficient independence, there is another route. We will then urge Sen. McConnell and Speaker Ryan to work with Democrats to create a new and improved version of the independent counsel law, which would give a three-judge panel the authority to appoint an independent counsel."

Third, Schumer said the Justice Department’s inspector general “must immediately begin an investigation into the attorney general’s involvement in this matter thus far, to discover if the investigation has already been compromised. He noted that the IG doesn't need permission from anyone to start such an investigation.

And Schumer helpfully offered question suggestions for the IG:

“We know the attorney general met with the president several weeks ago. What did they discuss? Have there been other contacts between the president or senior administration officials or the attorney general regarding this matter? Have there been any attempts to interfere with the investigation in any way? Have the AG or his close associates personally managed the work of career officials at the Department of Justice or the FBI in the course of the investigation?

“The inspector general has the ability, the right and the obligation to find out answers to these questions and more.”

Schumer said although there is nothing wrong with Sessions meeting with the Russian ambassador in his Senate office in September, Sessions’ failure to disclose that contact at his confirmation hearing "is extremely troubling and raises even  more questions about the president and his associates' contacts with Russia.”

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