A group of influential Republican senators on Thursday called for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate how the Department of Justice and FBI conducted a probe of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.
The demand came in a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, from Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa, John Cornyn of Texas - a committee member and number two in the Senate GOP leadership - and committee members Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C.
They requested that a special counsel assist the DOJ inspector general in digging into possible misuse of the foreign intelligence surveillance system to obtain warrants against a former Trump campaign aide, leaks of classified intelligence to the media, and "potential improprieties in the FBI's relationship with Christopher Steele."
Grassley and Graham already made a criminal referral to the DOJ two months ago concerning former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele - author of the so-called "Trump dossier" - recommending that officials investigate possible false statements by Steele to federal officials.
One Senate Judiciary Committee Democratic source said, "They keep forgetting that the Russia investigation started with (former Trump campaign aide) George Papadopoulos and his Russia-related contacts."
Buried in the list of more than 30 questions that the senators want investigated is an allegation by Grassley that former FBI director James Comey may have lied to Congress.
"Chairman Grassley wrote to former Director Comey nearly a year ago requesting him to resolve apparent material discrepancies between information he provided in a closed briefing and information contained in classified documents," the letter reads. "Specifically, what Mr. Comey disclosed in a private briefing to the Chairman and Ranking Member Feinstein about the timeline of the FBI's interactions with Mr. Steele appeared inconsistent with information contained in FISA applications the Chairman and Ranking Member later reviewed."
Grassley goes on to say, "It's unclear whether this was a deliberate attempt to mislead the Oversight Committee about whether the FBI's communications with Mr. Steele about the Trump allegations began before or after the FBI opened the investigation."
"No explanation for the inconsistencies has ever been provided," the letter states.
The four GOP Judiciary Committee members also want to know more about the nature of the FBI's interview of Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, President Trump's former national security adviser who is now cooperating in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. He pleaded guilty to making false statements to federal agents.
Republicans on Capitol Hill have frequently lambasted Rosenstein, Mueller, and the Russia investigation, more broadly. Disagreements on the Senate Judiciary Committee have so fractured its own Russia investigation that Republicans and Democrats have been operating on separate tracks with some members privately grousing that the whole thing is a waste of time.
Democrats often say that Republicans, in attacking the Russia investigation, are merely trying to protect the president.
The DOJ inspector general is already investigating how the department and the FBI handled its probe of Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server. The inspector general is expected to issue its report on that matter in April, according to sources.
Senate Republicans call for special counsel to investigate DOJ's Russia probe
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