Peters: Probe possible prying in FBI Russia inquiry

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Michigan U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and other Democrats on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Friday asked inspectors at the U.S. Department of Justice to look into possible political interference with the FBI’s investigation into Russian intrusion in the 2016 elections.

In a letter, Peters, along with Sens. Tom Carper of Delaware, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire and Kamala Harris of California, asked DOJ Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz to open the inquiry. They want to know whether any actions of the department or the White House of President Donald Trump constituted political interference in the FBI’s investigation into whether Trump associates colluded with Russian agents to meddle in the presidential election.

“The attorney general’s recommendation and the president’s decision to remove Mr. (James) Comey in the midst of the FBI’s most sensitive criminal investigation threatens the integrity of the Department of Justice and poses grave injury to the rule of law,” the senators wrote.

“Yesterday, the President told NBC News that he asked Mr. Comey if he was under investigation while he was actively considering whether or not to retain Mr. Comey as FBI director, a question that in itself undermines the FBI’s independence.”

Peters is the ranking Democrat on the Federal Spending Oversight and Emergency Management Subcommittee.

House Oversight Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, has also called on Horowitz to look at the matter. On Wednesday, Chaffetz asked the IG to examine why Comey was fired as part of an ongoing investigation of how the FBI handled the investigation of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email server.

The senators in their letter noted that the stated justification for dismissing Comey — making “serious mistakes” in the Clinton case — directly contradicts a slew of public comments by Trump, including his remark at an Oct. 31 campaign rally in Grand Rapids that it took “guts” for Comey to reopen the Clinton inquiry.

The senators want the inspector general to investigate the allocation of resources for the Russia investigation, as well as the reason for Comey’s termination, including inconsistencies with the “publicly offered rationale” and the timing of his dismissal “occurring, as it did, just days after Mr. Comey was reported to have requested additional resources for his investigation.”

They also want Horowitz to look into the role that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had in Comey’s firing, despite his stated recusal from the Russia probe.

The letter follows calls this week from many Democrats for an independent Russia investigation, which was joined Thursday by maverick Republican U.S. Rep. Justin Amash of the Grand Rapids area. But both House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky oppose such a probe, saying it would interfere with ongoing congressional inquiries.

In the interview with NBC, Trump on Thursday repeated his claim in his letter to Comey that the FBI director had told him on three occasions that Trump himself was not under investigation.

Explaining his reasons for firing Comey, Trump told NBC that Comey was a “showboat” and “grand stander.” He also said the FBI “has been in turmoil” since last year, presumably referring to the agency’s handling of the investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email server.

At the White House, spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said of the Russia investigation: “Look, again, the point is, we want this to come to its conclusion. We want it to come to its conclusion with integrity. And we think that we’ve actually, by removing Director Comey, taken steps to make that happen.”

mburke@detroitnews.com

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