WASHINGTON — Rep. Andy Harris said Thursday he joined a group of fellow House Republicans in seeking criminal investigations of Hillary Clinton and former FBI Director James Comey because Americans want "full transparency" and need to know whether the Obama Justice Department was influenced by politics instead of the law.
"This is the law enforcement agency of the nation," the Baltimore County lawmaker said. "I think Americans resent if the law enforcement agency of the nation was being used as a partisan tool."
Harris was among 11 House Republicans to sign a letter asking Attorney General Jeff Sessions to investigate Clinton, Comey and other former Obama administration officials for "potential violations of federal statutes" — many of which, the lawmakers allege, aided Democrats.
Democrats accused the GOP of trying to divert attention from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's investigation into Russia's attempts to influence the 2016 election.
"The letter is yet another attempt to distract from the real and serious ongoing criminal investigations by the Department of Justice into Russia's interference with our election, and the recent search of the office and home of the president's personal attorney," Rep. Elijah E. Cummings said.
"It has already gotten more attention than it deserves," said the Baltimore lawmaker, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee. "Instead, Republicans in Congress should join us in passing legislation to protect the Mueller investigation from interference and in investigating the serious waste, fraud and abuse within the Trump administration."
The letter was embraced by some conservative groups, including members of the House Freedom Caucus, of which Harris is a member. Fox News commentator Sean Hannity called it "a major development in a critical fight to hold the deep state accountable."
The letter's signers accuse Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign of disguising payments to an opposition research firm, and allege that Comey leaked classified information.
"Because we believe that those in positions of high authority should be treated the same as every other American, we want to be sure that the potential violations of law outlined below are vetted appropriately," they wrote.
They also make allegations against other law enforcement officials in the Obama administration, whom they accuse of protecting Clinton from allegations related to her use of a private email server.
There was no immediate comment from the Justice Department.
Republicans have long expressed concern about the FBI's review of Clinton's private email server, among other issues, when she was the Democratic presidential nominee. Some have also attacked the integrity of the investigation by Mueller, who was appointed special counsel in May 2017. President Donald J. Trump has repeatedly called the investigation "a witch hunt."
Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger said the Republicans' letter will accomplish nothing.
"As far as I'm concerned, it's a diversion," the Baltimore County Democrat said. "Let's focus on getting the facts right and get this country back together. We were attacked by Russia. Don't people care about that?"
But Harris said the allegations in the letter deserved investigation.
"There is evidence in the open press that there was the potential for rules having been violated, laws having been broken," Harris said.
"Look, if no laws were violated, that's fine," he said. "But if laws were violated then the people of America deserve justice to be done no matter what party label you have behind your name."