WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions rejected on Thursday a request from Republican lawmakers to appoint a special counsel to investigate allegations by conservatives that Justice Department officials abused their authority in surveilling a former Trump campaign official.
In a letter to three congressional committee chairmen, Mr. Sessions said an existing Justice Department inquiry into issues raised earlier by the lawmakers included an examination of the surveillance matter, obviating the need for a special counsel. He identified John W. Huber, the United States attorney in Utah, as the prosecutor leading that investigation and stressed that he welcomed lawmakers’ scrutiny.
“I take the concerns you raise seriously,” Mr. Sessions wrote, adding, “No institution is perfect.”
Nonetheless, his decision not to appoint a special counsel, at least for now, is almost certain to disappoint Republicans. Even after the announcement a day earlier that the Justice Department inspector general is also examining the allegations, lawmakers reiterated their calls for a special counsel.
President Trump had demanded last month that Mr. Sessions turn to Justice Department lawyers, not the inspector general, to investigate accusations of surveillance abuse.
The department had told lawmakers in November that senior prosecutors were examining a variety of issues, including allegations related to the Clinton family foundation. Included in that inquiry, Mr. Sessions wrote on Thursday, was the surveillance of the campaign official, Carter Page, who served as a foreign policy adviser during Mr. Trump’s presidential run.
The wiretap of Mr. Page has been at the heart of attacks on the Russia investigation by Mr. Trump, Republican lawmakers and conservative commentators, who have assailed the inquiry as an effort by federal law enforcement officials to undercut Mr. Trump. They have said the application to spy on him, submitted to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, relied on information from Democrat-funded research without being fully forthcoming about its source.
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