House GOP leaders are starting to come out in strong support of a second special counsel to investigate conservative allegations of bias and abuse at the FBI.
Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said Monday he backs the appointment of another special counsel to look at how law enforcement has handled the Russia probe. Scalise’s statement echoed similar calls from Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) over the weekend.
The moves align the No. 2 and No. 3 House GOP leaders with President Trump, who could be a factor in a future leadership race between the two friendly rivals.
Neither Scalise nor McCarthy wants any daylight between themselves and Trump in the event Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) calls it quits after the November midterm elections.
“I agree with the many others who have called for the appointment of an additional special counsel,” Scalise said in a statement Monday.
“We need a second special counsel,” McCarthy told Fox News on Saturday.
Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have not endorsed the idea of a second probe nor criticized special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, despite growing calls from rank-and-file members.
Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong did not respond to questions about other GOP leaders calling for another special counsel, but said Ryan continues to back Mueller’s investigation.
“As the Speaker has always said, Mr. Mueller and his team should be able to do their job,” Strong said in a statement.
McConnell has not publicly weighed in on the issue, and a spokesman did not return a request for comment.
The creation of a second special counsel would almost certainly muddy the waters surrounding Mueller’s investigation and could undermine it by raising questions about his evidence. At the same time, it could chill suggestions that Mueller should be fired by Trump, a maneuver many Republicans see as a huge political risk and the White House insists is not in play.
Democrats argue the creation of a second investigation would be a smokescreen designed to shift criticism toward 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, whom Trump has repeatedly blamed for the instigation of the probe.
“The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime,” Trump tweeted on Saturday in a message notable for calling Mueller out by name.
“It was based on fraudulent activities and a Fake Dossier paid for by Crooked Hillary and the [Democratic National Committee], and improperly used in [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] COURT for surveillance of my campaign. WITCH HUNT!”
The tweet references the “Steele dossier,” a collection of opposition research produced by retired British spy Christopher Steele, and funded by Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee. The dossier was then used in an application to obtain a surveillance warrant on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
“That appears to be a political distraction machine,” Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) said of the growing calls for a second special counsel. “I think that’s the point of it, for them to try to equate everything, basically try to paint a picture as though everybody messed up, or everybody’s bad, therefore nobody’s bad.”
Castro expressed concern that Trump would fire Mueller regardless of whether there is a second special counsel in place.
“My sense is that ultimately, if the special counsel gets close to people around the president, that the president will fire Bob Mueller,” Castro said.
Trump’s legal team wants the second special counsel to investigate whether FBI and Justice Department officials abused the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) by using the dossier to justify spying on Page as part of the Russia probe.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week revealed he has tapped a former official outside the Beltway to review the need for a second special counsel, suggesting the idea is receiving a serious look.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller to investigate Trump campaign associates’ ties to Russia after Sessions recused himself from the investigation last year.
McCarthy and Scalise have joined a growing chorus of powerful GOP lawmakers who support another special counsel.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) have called on Sessions and Rosenstein to appoint a second special counsel to investigate “potential criminality” related to the surveillance warrant application for Page.
They also called for a review of any evidence of “bias” by Justice Department or FBI employees, as well as whether there was any “extraneous influence” on the surveillance process.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) sent a letter to Sessions and Rosenstein last week asking for a special counsel to “gather all the facts.”
The Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, is already investigating potential FISA abuses. But Republicans argue the inspector general does not have the prosecutorial authority needed to conduct a full investigation of the FBI’s actions.
“An inspector general does not have subpoena power,” McCarthy said. “We need somebody to look at this, and not from the inside — because you can’t trust what’s happening right now.”
In his statement, Scalise argued it’s the only way to ensure the public has full faith in Mueller’s findings.
“The credibility of the Mueller investigation will be in doubt unless we get to the bottom of the many serious questions regarding the FBI’s handling of their investigation of the Trump campaign,” Scalise said.