US Attorney General Sessions says Mueller probe has taken on 'life of its own'

WASHINGTON, April 26 (Reuters) - U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday defended his decision not to appoint a second special prosecutor to investigate Republicans' concerns about the FBI by noting that Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe had already taken on "a life of its own."

Speaking to a U.S. House appropriations panel during a routine budget hearing, Sessions told lawmakers that the Justice Department needed to "be disciplined and stay within our classical procedure and rules" before rushing to hire more special counsels.

"I do not think we need to willy-nilly appoint special counsels," he said, after listening to a laundry list of frustrations aired by West Virginia Republican Congressman Evan Jenkins.

"As we can see, it can really take on a life of its own."

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People reportedly interviewed in Robert Mueller's Russia probe
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People reportedly interviewed in Robert Mueller's Russia probe

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions 

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Former FBI Director James Comey

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus

(REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer

(REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

White House Director of Strategic Communications Hope Hicks

(Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Trump advisor Stephen Miller

(REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

President Trump's son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner 

(bBRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Don McGahn, general counsel for the Trump transition team

(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Christopher Steele, the former MI6 agent who compiled the reported Trump dossier 

(Photo by Victoria Jones/PA Images via Getty Images)

Sam Clovis, a former member of the Trump campaign

(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

CIA Director Mike Pompeo
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Sessions has often found himself in the crosshairs of President Donald Trump's wrath because of his decision to recuse himself from overseeing the probe into whether Trump's presidential campaign colluded with Russia.

Trump has repeatedly denied any collusion with Russia, has called the probe a "witch hunt," lamented tapping Sessions as attorney general, and mused about whether to fire Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the probe due to Sessions' recusal.

Trump's ire was further provoked more recently after the FBI raided the office and home of his personal attorney, Michael Cohen.

In an interview on "Fox and Friends" early Thursday, Trump hinted he might get more aggressive in trying to shake up leadership at the Justice Department, saying: "I've taken the position - and I don't have to take this position and maybe I'll change - that I will not be involved with the Justice Department."

Republicans frustrated by the Mueller probe have since launched investigations into other matters such as the FBI's handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation and whether the Justice Department committed abuses when it applied to a special court for a warrant to conduct surveillance on Carter Page, a former Trump national security campaign adviser.

In response to those concerns, Sessions asked U.S. Attorney John Huber of the District of Utah to independently review the issues, rather than hiring a special prosecutor.

On Thursday, Sessions staunchly defended the FBI, calling its director, Christopher Wray a "man of integrity," and warned lawmakers not to "smear everybody" at the department.

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FBI Director Christopher Wray
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FBI Director Christopher Wray
FBI Director nominee Christopher Wray sits during a meeting with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 29, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Christopher Wray testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be the next FBI director on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 12, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Christopher Wray, President Donald Trump's nominee to lead the FBI, is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 27, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) meets with Christopher Wray, who U.S. President Donald Trump has nominated to be FBI Director, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Christopher Wray (L) is greeted by former Senator Sam Nunn as he arrives to testify before a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be the next FBI director on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 12, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Christopher Wray is sworn in prior to testifying before a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be the next FBI director on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 12, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Christopher Wray is seated prior to testifying before a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be the next FBI director on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 12, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 18: Christopher Wray, President Trump's nominee to lead the FBI walks through the Senate subway at the US Capitol on July 18, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 13: U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) (L) meets with FBI Director nominee Christopher Wray (R) on Capitol Hill July 13, 2017 in Washington, DC. If confirmed, Wray will fill the position that has been left behind by former director James Comey who was fired by President Donald Trump about two months ago. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 13: U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) (L) meets with FBI Director nominee Christopher Wray (R) on Capitol Hill July 13, 2017 in Washington, DC. If confirmed, Wray will fill the position that has been left behind by former director James Comey who was fired by President Donald Trump about two months ago. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 12: Christopher Wray, nominee for FBI Director, testifies during his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing in Dirksen Building on July 12, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - JULY 12: Christopher Wray, nominee for FBI Director, prepares for his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing in Dirksen Building on July 12, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
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Jenkins urged Sessions to reconsider on tapping a second special counsel, noting his constituents are losing patience.

"We are frustrated we have had a special counsel... investigating collusion over a year without a scintilla of evidence," he said.

Sessions responded that he understands why some Americans - and Trump - may be frustrated.

"I think the American people are concerned and the president is concerned," Sessions said.

"He is dealing with France and North Korea and Syria and taxes and regulations and border and crime every day."

"This thing, he continued, "needs to conclude."

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Andrea Ricci)

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