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U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions listens as President Donald Trump holds a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington, U.S., August 16, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque(reuters_tickers)
By Michelle Price and David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday launched a fresh attack on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, accusing him of jeopardizing the chances of re-election for two Republican congressmen by bringing criminal charges against them just before the midterm elections.
Trump wrote on Twitter the Justice Department's decision to file charges will hurt safe Republican seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Election analysts believe there is a 50 percent chance the Democratic Party will take control of the House, in which all 435 seats are up for grabs in the Nov. 6 elections. Republicans currently hold a 236-193 advantage and there are six vacant seats.
"Two long running, Obama era, investigations of two very popular Republican Congressmen were brought to a well publicized charge, just ahead of the Mid-Terms, by the Jeff Sessions Justice Department," the Republican president wrote. "Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time. Good job Jeff...."
Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores declined to comment on Trump's tweets, which did not name the congressmen.
On Aug. 8, Congressman Christopher Collins, a Republican who was candidate Trump's first supporter in the House, was charged with participating in an insider trading scheme involving an Australian biotechnology company on whose board he served. Collins has denied wrongdoing but will not seek re-election.
Despite Trump's claim that both investigations began under Democratic President Barack Obama, Collins was charged over trades in June 2017 - nearly six months after Trump took office.
On Aug. 23, Republican Representative Duncan Hunter was indicted on charges that he and his wife used hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign funds to pay for vacations, video games and other personal expenses and filed false campaign finance reports, federal officials said.
Hunter, the second congressman to back Trump for the White House, has denied wrongdoing, and a recent poll put him in the lead for the election. The Hunter investigation began under Obama.
The unorthodox presidential attack brought criticism from former Justice Department officials and some Republican senators, including Ben Sasse.
"The United States is not some banana republic with a two-tiered system of justice – one for the majority party and one for the minority party. These two men have been charged with crimes because of evidence, not because of who the president was when the investigations began," Sasse said in a statement.
Senator Jeff Flake, a Republican, said on Twitter the statement was "not the conduct of a President committed to defending and upholding the constitution, but rather a President looking to use the Department of Justice to settle political scores."
Former Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara called Trump's tweet "next level crazy, inappropriate, unethical, stupid, incriminating."
U.S. Senator Brian Schatz, a Democrat, questioned Trump's comments and whether they were legal.
"He's not hiding how he views the law, law enforcement, of justice. In his world they swore an oath to him, not (the) constitution and laws," Schatz wrote on Twitter.
The president has repeatedly attacked Sessions for recusing himself from an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign. After the recusal, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Special Counsel Robert Mueller to lead the probe, which Trump calls a "witch hunt."
Last week, Trump told Bloomberg the attorney general was safe in his job until November but declined to say if he would keep Sessions in the role beyond then.
The president has repeatedly denied there was any collusion between his campaign and Moscow. U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded Russia tried to help Trump win the 2016 election, but the Kremlin denies meddling.
(Reporting by Michelle Price; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Sandra Maler)