Who can investigate whom?

Pressure is mounting for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate how the FBI and the Justice Department handled interactions with the Trump campaign and the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Sens. Charles Grassley and Lindsey Graham say that although the inspector general is doing a good job with his investigation, he faces constraints. Thus, they want a special counsel.

To the extent the inspector general is constrained, however, other precincts of the Justice Department, including prosecutors, could step in. So the argument for a special counsel boils down to the proposition that, as Sen. Grassley puts it, the DOJ “cannot be counted on to investigate [itself].”

This may be true, although it appears that in this case the DOJ inspector general, at least, is doing a good job of investigation the DOJ. Grassley and Graham so stipulate.

What’s undoubtedly true is that a Justice Department official cannot be counted on to investigate himself. That’s why it’s puzzling that some of the same commentators and talk show hosts (plus a certain president) who say the DOJ can’t investigate itself insist that Jeff Sessions shouldn’t have recused himself from the Russia campaign interference investigation.

Sessions was a key member of the campaign team that is under investigation. During the period in which Sessions was a member of that campaign team, he met several times with the Russian ambassador.

A thorough investigation of alleged links between Russia and the Trump campaign would be expected to explore Sessions’ encounters with the ambassador. Thus, once Sessions was reminded that he had such encounters, he was right to recuse himself from the investigation.

Otherwise, he would have been investigating himself.

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