WASHINGTON ― With President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans threatening to go after the people who leaked classified material about Trump’s ties to Russia, Democrats are asking the Justice Department to investigate the potential intimidation of whistleblowers ― and they want Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself.
In a particularly stern letter, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee asked DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz to look into whether the Trump administration has engaged in any “improper effort to intimidate or threaten whistleblowers.” Democrats also asked the inspector general to determine whether Sessions should sit out that sort of investigation, considering his personal ties to former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was also involved with the Trump campaign.
Trump campaign aides had contact with Russian intelligence officials during the election and Trump has long-standing ties to Russia, The New York Times revealed this week. Intelligence agencies also concluded that Russian officials tried to influence the U.S. election.
“Given the significance and magnitude of these developments, we believe it is appropriate that your office — in conjunction with other Offices of Inspectors General, if necessary — conduct an investigation,” Democrats wrote to Horowitz, who has served as the DOJ inspector general since early 2012.
Outraged that whistleblowers are turning over classified information to the news media, Trump targeted leakers on Thursday in one of his classic early morning Twitter rants, saying that leaks have been “a big problem in Washington for years” and that “low-life leakers” will be caught.
The two lead authors of the Democrats’ letter, ranking Judiciary Committee member John Conyers (D-Mich.) and member Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), noted Trump’s “angry and unhinged threats and attacks on the law enforcement and intelligence communities, only adding to our concerns about the conflicts with Attorney General Sessions.”
“We therefore believe it is more important than ever that the Inspector General conduct this requested review,” they continued.
Sessions has a number of potential conflicts of interest in investigating the Trump administration’s threats against whistleblowers, as The Huffington Post noted this week:
Sessions’ relationship with the Trump campaign is especially relevant because Flynn’s contacts with Russian envoys reportedly began before the election. Sessions was the first senator to endorse Trump. White House chief strategist Steve Bannon described Sessions as “the clearinghouse for policy and philosophy” in the Trump administration, and the “fiercest, most dedicated, and most loyal promoter in Congress of Trump’s agenda” during the election. Sessions regularly appeared with Trump on the campaign trail, and the Alabama senator formally nominated Trump at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July. One of Sessions’ former aides became a senior adviser in the Trump White House.
It’s unclear whether the Justice Department would actually look into the potential intimidation of whistleblowers, especially with Sessions presiding over the department. But Democrats’ appeal to the inspector general appears to be a way to get around the attorney general and receive an answer from an Obama-appointed official.
Read Democrats’ full letter below.