A large group of Republican senators have asked Attorney General Merrick Garland to grant “special counsel” status to the Delaware federal prosecutor who has been overseeing a long-running investigation into President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden.
In a letter signed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Texas Senator John Cornyn and more than 30 other GOP members, the senators asked Mr Garland to name Delaware US Attorney David Weiss as a special counsel, a status normally reserved for prosecutors brought in from outside the Department of Justice to investigate matters involving an incumbent administration.
Mr Weiss, a Trump appointee, has been supervising an investigation into whether Hunter Biden committed any criminal violations of US tax or lobbying laws. The younger Mr Biden has denied any wrongdoing and has not been charged with any crimes, but some Republican senators have claimed that he has not been charged because of misconduct within the Federal Bureau of Investigation by partisans bent on protecting Democrats.
Republicans have a long history of demanding protected investigations into Democratic presidents. One such investigation, overseen by former independent counsel Kenneth Starr, resulted in the impeachment of then-president Bill Clinton in late 1998.
During Donald Trump’s first year in the White House, then-deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein appointed ex-FBI Director Robert Mueller under the DoJ special counsel regulations to probe whether Mr Trump’s campaign had coordinated with Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election on Mr Trump’s behalf. The move was necessary because the then-attorney general, Jeff Sessions, had recused himself from that investigation because he had been an adviser to Mr Trump’s campaign.
Republicans in Congress — and Mr Trump — chafed at the idea that the then-president could be investigated by anyone. They have frequently called for equivalent investigations into multiple controversies and cited a need to balance Mr Mueller’s two-year probe into the Trump campaign with an equivalent one into Democrats.
Mr Sessions’ successor as attorney general, William Barr, granted that wish in late 2020 when he named former Connecticut US attorney John Durham as a special counsel to look into the origins of Mr Mueller’s probe. Though Mr Durham has achieved folk hero status among Mr Trump’s supporters, he has not uncovered the myriad serious crimes which the ex-president has accused Democrats of committing before and during Mr Mueller’s investigation.
The Republican senators who signed the letter to Mr Garland would like the attorney general to grant that same status to Mr Weiss, which would prevent him from being fired and require Congress to be informed if Mr Garland declines to act on any of Mr Weiss’ recommendations, even though Mr Weiss has been part of the DoJ since the Trump administration and was allowed to remain in office by Mr Biden so as to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.
“Under Department of Justice regulations and federal law, you have the power to provide special counsel authorities and protections to U.S. Attorney Weiss,” they wrote. “Given that the investigation involves the President's son, we believe it is important to provide U.S. Attorney Weiss with special counsel authorities and protections to allow him to investigate an appropriate scope of potentially criminal conduct, avoid the appearance of impropriety, and provide additional assurances to the American people that the Hunter Biden investigation is free from political influence”.
It’s unlikely that Mr Garland would make such an appointment given DOJ rules that require special counsels to be appointed from outside the Department of Justice.