House Democrats want inspector general to probe whether Sessions violated recusal

House Democrats are asking the Justice Department’s inspector general to launch a special investigation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and whether he violated the terms of his recusal from probes related to the 2016 presidential campaigns by being involved in the firing of James B. Comey as FBI director.

In a letter to Inspector General Michael Horowitz on Thursday, Democrats on the House Judiciary and Oversight committees asked the inspector general’s office to investigate “whether the Attorney General violated his recusal by participating in the President’s decision to fire Director Comey” and “whether administrative disciplinary procedures” — including and up to termination — “are warranted.”

Democratic lawmakers said they were prompted to write the letter by the Justice Department’s silence after several earlier inquiries about Sessions’s involvement in Comey’s termination. Because Sessions recused himself from matters related to the Trump campaign and the investigation into the hacking of the Clinton campaign’s emails, they argue that Sessions probably violated his recusal in the course of firing Comey, regardless of the true reason Trump ordered his termination.

Their letter comes as Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) is making a renewed push to call the scruples of acting FBI director Andrew McCabe into question. In a letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein this week, Grassley listed public complaints about McCabe, including donations made to his wife’s political campaign by close associates of former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and an allegation of sex discrimination made against him in which former national security adviser Michael Flynn supported the FBI agent claiming discrimination.

Grassley questioned why McCabe had not recused himself and “whether he had any retaliatory motive against Flynn for being an adverse witness to him in a pending proceeding.”

The competing letters highlight the partisan divisions deepening in Congress as committee investigations and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 elections reach a new stage of intensity.

The House and Senate intelligence committees are in the process of scheduling interviews with various surrogates of President Trump, including his senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, and the Senate Intelligence Committee is also expecting copies of the memos Comey kept of conversations with the president that he said made him uncomfortable.

But as those committees have intensified their probes, other committees pursuing lines of inquiry against Russia have sometimes turned their attention in different directions.

In recent days, Grassley has redoubled efforts to look into how Comey handled the Clinton email server scandal, while the new House Oversight and Government Relations Committee chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), said that he did not plan to have his panel investigate allegations of Russian election meddling or possible collusion between the president’s surrogates and the Kremlin.

Trump’s nominee to take over as FBI director, Christopher A. Wray, was also on Capitol Hill on Thursday, meeting with senators about his nomination.