President Donald Trump stands with Attorney General Jeff Sessions on December 15, 2017 in Quantico, Virginia, before participating in the FBI National Academy graduation ceremony.

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Jeff Sessions sidesteps a question on adding a second special counsel

The attorney general announced the addition of 40 violent crime prosecutors

Washington CNN  — 

Attorney General Jeff Sessions sidestepped a question Friday on whether there’s a need for a second special counsel to investigate the Justice Department, instead using the opportunity to detail the rocky past two weeks for his department and suggesting “things that might appear to be bad in the press have more innocent explanations.”

Earlier this month, a tidal wave swept over the Justice Department, the FBI and special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation when reports surfaced that two FBI officials formerly on his team had exchanged a series of texts trashing then-presidential candidate Donald Trump.

The pair also had poked fun at a variety of other public figures, including Chelsea Clinton and House Speaker Paul Ryan. But Peter Strzok’s role on the Hillary Clinton email server investigation, combined with his help opening the investigation into Trump campaign associates’ links to Russian operations, has served as cannon fodder for Republicans looking to discredit Mueller’s probe.

A separate series of reports from Fox News tying a career Justice official within the deputy attorney general’s office to Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm behind the controversial Trump dossier – have prompted calls by the President’s lawyer and lawmakers on Capitol Hill for a second special counsel.

“Everybody has to be accountable and responsible,” Sessions told reporters Friday. “You can have arrogance seep into sometimes an institution and that’s not acceptable. So we want to be open to the public and we’re going to go as far as we can to do that.”

“I would just say that we intend to monitor our people to maintain high standards,” he added.

Focus on violent crime

Sessions also announced the addition of 40 violent crime prosecutors in US attorneys’ offices around the country in a reiteration of the administration’s efforts to fight violent crime. He previewed that he expects to add some 260 more prosecutors nationwide in the coming months.

The effort is a follow-up on the Justice Department’s reinvestment in the Project Safe Neighborhoods program, first launched in 2001 to fight gun crime. Money to support the new positions will be reallocated from other places in the budget, Sessions said.

Sessions said two new federal prosecutors will go to “hotbeds” like Central Islip, New York, which has a particularly high level of crime from the MS-13 gang. An additional two prosecutors will also go to each district along the Southwest border, Sessions said, to combat cartels, violence and illegal immigration.

Additional positions will go to cities including Oakland, California; St. Louis; Toledo, Ohio; Memphis, Tennessee; Milwaukee; Las Vegas and Detroit, the attorney general said. Two task forces will be created, one in North Carolina and one Pennsylvania, to target areas of especially high violent crime.

Sessions said the effort continues the “law and order” emphasis of the Trump administration.

“We will not cede a community, a block or a street corner to violent thugs who peddle poison or gangs who prey on our children,” Sessions said. “To the communities that are suffering, hear this: Help is on the way. We are marshaling our resources and will be relentless in our pursuit of violent criminals.”