US President Donald Trump has renewed his attacks on attorney general Jeff Sessions.
Mr Trump described Mr Sessions’ handling of Republican complaints that the FBI abused its surveillance power during the early stages of the Russia investigation as “disgraceful”.
Mr Sessions said the Justice Department’s inspector general will evaluate whether prosecutors and agents wrongly obtained a warrant to monitor the communications of a Trump associate.
This is in response to pressure from congressional Republicans who, like Mr Trump, have been angry about what they believe to be bias within the FBI.
But Mr Trump wrote on Twitter: “Why is A.G. Jeff Sessions asking the Inspector General to investigate potentially massive FISA abuse. 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!”
Mr Sessions asked the watchdog office to investigate whether agents abused the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, but it has not said publicly that it will.
Mr Trump is angry that Mr Sessions referred the allegations of Justice Department employee misconduct to the inspector general, but that is exactly what the office is charged with doing. Its lawyers are part of the Justice Department and, contrary to Mr Trump’s claims, can and often do refer matters for prosecution.
The office has been working on a separate review of the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation but that report is not late and is expected to be released around March or April.
It was the latest of Mr Trump’s attacks on Mr Sessions, who continues to faithfully execute Mr Trump’s agenda. A day earlier, for example, Mr Sessions said his Justice Department was working towards banning rapid-fire bump stock devices at Mr Trump’s urging, even though the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had previously said it was powerless to do so without action from Congress.
Mr Sessions has been largely silent in the face of Mr Trump’s insults, which critics say has strained department morale and made Mr Sessions seem eager to appease his boss at risk of dangerously politicising the Justice Department.
But their relationship was strained by Mr Sessions’ decision to step aside from the Russia probe after facing questions about his own contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the US during the campaign.
Mr Trump blames that move for the eventual appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller to oversee the sprawling investigation. Mr Trump has not directly attacked the special counsel.
The criticism was so harsh that Mr Sessions offered last year to resign, which Mr Trump refused to accept. Mr Trump has since been relentlessly pressuring Mr Sessions to investigate political rivals.
Mr Trump and Republicans had also been encouraging Mr Sessions to look further into the surveillance abuse allegations. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders suggested on Tuesday that Mr Trump would be pleased with Mr Sessions’ referral to the inspector general.
“It’s something that he’s clearly had frustration over so I would imagine he’d certainly support the decision to look into what we feel to be some wrongdoing,” she said. “I think that’s the role of the Department of Justice and we’re glad that they’re fulfilling that job.”