DOJ gives special counsel internal docs on proposed Sessions resignation, source says
The Justice Department has handed over a wide array of emails and documents.
— -- In the weeks before special counsel Robert Mueller’s team interviewed Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Justice Department turned over a cache of internal correspondence, including documents related to the proposed resignation of Sessions last year and emails with the White House about fired national security adviser Michael Flynn, according to a source with knowledge of the matter.
Details of what the Justice Department has now provided to Mueller’s team, which sources say has been investigating whether President Donald Trump sought to obstruct a federal inquiry into possible connections between his presidential campaign and Russian operatives, reflect how widely investigators are casting their net.
Citing sources familiar with the matter, ABC News reported in November that Mueller’s office was interested in obtaining internal emails related to the firing of FBI Director James Comey and the earlier decision of Sessions to recuse himself from the entire matter, but at the time it was unclear what other type of information Mueller's office might have been seeking.
Comey was fired in May of last of year, and days later Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller as special counsel.
In an Oval Office meeting after Mueller's appointment, Trump told Sessions he should resign, prompting the attorney general to submit a letter of resignation, according to The New York Times. But Trump ultimately rejected the resignation after advisers warned against it in the wake of Comey’s firing.
A month after that episode, Trump wanted to have White House aides fire Mueller but backed off after White House counsel Don McGahn and others made clear they were opposed to such a move, a source familiar with the deliberations told ABC News.
Emails and other documents produced within the Justice Department during that time, including emails with White House officials, have now been sent to Mueller’s office, according to a source with knowledge of the matter.
Sessions and Rosenstein both played key roles in Comey's high-profile removal.To publicly bolster the controversial move at the time, the White House released two memos written separately by Sessions and Rosenstein, with both faulting Comey for his handling of the FBI's probe into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server when she was secretary of state.During a House hearing last year, Rosenstein refused to say whether he consulted with the White House before Comey's firing or whether anyone asked him to write his memo, insisting such questions "may well be within the scope of the special counsel's investigation."
The special counsel has already secured charges against four Trump associates, including Flynn.
Flynn was fired only weeks into the Trump administration after then–Acting Attorney General Sally Yates informed White House officials that Flynn lied to them about his contacts with Russian officials.
Referring to the Justice Department, Yates told lawmakers last year, "We believed Gen. Flynn was compromised in regards to the Russians" and “could be blackmailed by the Russians."
Yates privately brought those concerns to the White House, and Flynn has since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, acknowledging that before Trump’s inauguration he spoke about U.S. sanctions against Russia with Russia’s then-ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak.
The Justice Department has now provided Mueller’s team with internal documents related to the matter, according to the source with knowledge of the matter.
Mueller’s team also asked former senior Justice Department officials for information from their time at the department, sources familiar with the request previously told ABC News.
Meanwhile, Sessions has faced public criticism from Trump over his recusal and Rosenstein's subsequent appointment of Mueller.
At one point last year, Trump told reporters he wouldn't have nominated Sessions to run the Justice Department had he known Sessions would give up oversight of the investigation.
In announcing his recusal, Sessions said he and "senior career department officials" spent "several weeks" discussing whether his role as top foreign policy adviser to Trump's presidential campaign last year meant his "impartiality might reasonably be questioned."
Such internal discussions have been turned over to Mueller’s team, the source familiar with the matter told ABC News.
Sessions was interviewed by Mueller's team two weeks ago. Rosenstein was interviewed last summer.
In the wake of Flynn's guilty plea, the former national security adviser is now cooperating with Mueller’s investigation, which has already netted another guilty plea and an indictment against two Trump associates.
Former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his time with the campaign. In court documents, he said he told Sessions and Trump during a 2016 meeting that he was working with Russians to orchestrate a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Sessions rejected the suggestion that Papadopoulos should help orchestrate a meeting between the two.
In addition, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his former business partner Rick Gates have been indicted on money-laundering and other charges tied to their previous lobbying efforts. They have pleaded not guilty.