Jeff Sessions (R), U.S. Senator for 20 years, a former U.S. Attorney to the Southern District of Alabama and the current Attorney General of the United States, was given the opportunity to testify in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the same group of Senators that asked Former FBI Director Comey about his interactions with Donald Trump and his last few months working within the FBI, after Sessions had meet privately with the Russian ambassador twice, with the FBI in the middle of a very intense investigation over the interference of the 2016 presidential election. Sessions was also asked about his private conversations with President Trump and any other knowledge he may have about the administration’s potential dealings with Russia. Here are some highlights:
A huge red flag going into this hearing was Sessions’ failure to disclose any details of his meetings with the Russian ambassador in 2016. Sessions met with Russian ambassador to the United States Sergey I. Kislyak at least twice in 2016, once in July and once in November shortly after the Trump win. It is a federal crime to make false statements or withhold relevant information on the background check form, as Jeff Sessions did on, at least, two occasions.
Intellegence Committee Chairman Burr takes time in his opening statement to mention Sessions’ large body of work and service to the United States government. He also mentions that this is the tenth open hearing that the Senate Intelligence Committee has held in 2017, the fifth of which that has focused, specifically, on the FBI’s investigation on possible Russian interference in the 2016 election, along with many other governmental facilities.
“I’m hopeful that members will focus their questions today on the Russia investigation and not squander the opportunity by taking political or partisan shots.” – Chairman Richard Burr
Vice Chairman Mark Warner takes time in his opening statements to remind the public that Attorney General was originally scheduled to testify privately in front of the Appropriations Committees of the House of Representatives and the Senate on that very same Tuesday, but declined in lieu of this public testimony. Warner makes a note that Sessions should consider rescheduling those appearances.
Vice Chairman Warner also notes that the FBI and the Intelligence Committee had always planned to meet with Sessions and discuss details of the Russia Investigation and happenings concerning the President and the 2016 election cycle.
“I’m concerned that the President still does not recognize the severity of threat. He, to date, I believe, has not acknowledged the unanimous conclusions that the Russians massively intervened in our elections.” – Vice Chairman Warner
In his opening statement, Jeff Sessions quickly states that “consistent with long-standing Department of Justice practice”, he will not be discussing any private conversations that he and President Trump have had.
Jeff Sessions also immediately refutes any meeting with any Russian officials, including the Russian ambassador to the United States, at the Mayflower Hotel, the heavily speculated third meeting that Sessions had with Russian officials in April. He states that his presence at a reception where the Russian Ambassador was present is “entirely besides the point of this investigation into the interference in the 2016 election”
When addressing the accusations and claims being made about him by the FBI, the Senate Intelligence Committee and the public: “…the suggestion that I participated in any collusion, that i was aware of any collusion with the Russian government to hurt this country, that i have served with honor for 35 years or to undermine the integrity of our democratic process is an appalling and detestable lie.”
Attorney General Sessions claims that he did not lie during his confirmation hearing when Senator Al Franken asked Sessions about reports of a continuing exchange of information between “Trump’s surrogates and intermediates for the Russian government” during and after the 2016 campaign. Sessions insisted during his confirmation that he had no knowledge of any of those reports or activities.
Sessions is willing to “readily willing to admit” to his 2016 meetings with Russian Ambassador Kislyak and insists that nothing “improper” in any of those meetings. He also mentions that the Senate Judiciary Committee has access to supplementary testimony of all 25 of his meetings with various foreign dignitaries in 2016.
On the issue of his recusal (voluntary removal) from the federal investigation of the Russian interference of the 2016 elections, Sessions said that he met with a senior Ethics official on the matter of whether or not he should recuse himself from the case based on details and allegations of the case that had been reported in the press (details of his alleged meetings with Ambassador Kislyak). From February 10th to March 2nd, the date of his official recusal, he “was not briefed on any investigative details, did not access any information about the investigation.” He was only given “necessary” information that would help him decide whether he wanted to recuse himself.
He cited a Department of Justice regulation that states that “a Department official should not participate in the investigation of a campaign that they served as an advisor to” as a key factor in his refusal.
Regarding the conversation Comey and Sessions had about Comey’s private conversation with Trump: Comey had expressed concerned about “proper communications protocol with the White House and with the President”. Sessions says he “agreed” with Comey and that FBI and the Department of Justice needed to be careful to follow proper protocol in these matters and went even further to claim that he “encouraged” Comey to abide by those protocols. Remember, Comey said in his testimony that Sessions didn’t respond to his concerns about the private meeting with Trump on February 14th in any capacity.
“The people of this country expect an honest and transparent government and that’s what we’re giving them. This president wants to focus on the people of this country to ensure they are treated fairly and kept safe.” – Jeff Sessions
Sessions ends his opening statement to discuss overdose deaths and gang violence in the United States in relation to his commitment to executing his job within the Department of Justice
Sessions did not remember seeing Ambassador Kislyak at the Mayflower Hotel, but “understands that he was there” and “recently saw a video of him coming into the room”
When asked if Sessions attended the Mayflower Hotel speech in April of 2016 as a United States Senator or a surrogate of the Trump campaign: “I came there as an interested person very anxious to see how President Trump would do in his first major foreign policy address…it was an interesting time to observe his delivery and the message he would make.”
When asked by Chairman Burr about his specific reasoning for recusal from the Russia investigation, Sessions maintains that he is simply following DOJ guidelines.
Sessions has also been asked to make an email sent out by one of his aides of Sessions’ intent to recuse himself available to the Committee. Sessions also made a note that he had sent that email to Comey as well.
Sessions insists that he could have never had a conversation with President Trump about the Russia investigation because he had never been briefed about the case, even during the time before his recusal, apparently, at his request.
When asked is the “foreign policy committee” that Sessions was in charge of during Trump’s campaign ever actually met: “We met…a couple of times, maybe. Some of the people did. But we never functioned, frankly, as a coherent team.” He later goes on to say there are members of that he had never and still has never met.
When Vice Chair Warner asked Sessions if he would commit to speaking in front of other relevant committees, like the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, in the future, Sessions said he doesn’t believe it’s “good policy” to bring in cabinet members and himself on a frequent basis to “talk about the same things over and over again”.
When asked about his confidence in Director Mueller’s ability to provide special council in the Russia investigation, in the face of rumors that Trump might fire him: Sessions said he is not aware any reports of a potential Mueller firing, but he does have confidence in him. When asked of Trump’s confidence, Sessions says that he’s never discussed Former Director Mueller with Trump.
Vice Chair Warner makes a point to get Sessions on record that he will not make any personal actions or insistence to get Former Director Mueller removed or fired.
Sessions said that he would not discuss any conversations that he may have had with Trump or other White House officials about potential pardons within the results of the Russian investigation because of “proper communications protocol.” After going
Vice Chair Warner asked Sessions, as his superior, if he had ever talked with Comey about his performance and decision making in his position as FBI Director before his May 9th firing: “No, I did not.” After further questioning, Sessions explains that he did not feel it necessary to meet with Comey, but a memo was prepared by the Deputy Attorney General about the “serious concerns” of Comey’s performance that Sessions would immediately adopt, sign, and send into the President.
“I would just say with regard to the two…encounters, one at the Mayflower Hotel, I came there not knowing [Ambassador Kislyak] would be there, I didn’t have any communications with him before or after the event. And, likewise, at the RNC, I went offsite to a college campus for an event, I didn’t know he would be in the audience, either. – Sessions
Sessions confirms Comey did express concerns about being left alone with President Trump and his concerns that his private conversation with Trump was improper. Sessions also made a note that he believed that Comey would have a much better understanding of the communications guidelines than he did, considering “his experience, including as Former Deputy Attorney General.”
Senator Risch of the committee spends much of his opening statements discussing how little “factual” information has actually been produced that relate to possible Russian collusion.
Risch says that conversations with officers and ambassadors of other nations is an “everyday occurrence” and agrees there’s nothing improper about it.
Sessions was “not continually” with the Trump campaign and, in Risch’s words, did not hear “a whisper” of possible collusion by the Russians.
Sessions was given most of Senator Risch’s remaining time to stress the severity of the accusations at hand.
Did Sessions know that the President Trump had intended to fire Director Comey before he wrote his letter to President Trump recommending Comey’s dismissal?: According to Sessions, Trump had asked many key officers about their opinions on Comey’s worthiness of his position and insisted it be in writing.
Sessions uses Trump’s executive privilege to avoid discussing any possible discussions about Comey’s performance in the Russian investigation or his employment in the position of Director of the FBI.
“It was my best judgement that a fresh start at the FBI was an appropriate thing to do.” – Sessions, on his opinion that Comey’s ability to work with employees of the FBI was lacking.
Sessions also cites a “lack of discipline” from Director Comey, bringing up the fact that Comey made public details on Clinton’s and Trump’s private discussions in his hearings.
Senator Rubio mostly followed up on previous discussions, but did ask Sessions whether he could remember any previous conversations and interactions with people during the course of the presidential campaign that seemed highly suspect and could be linked back to a Russian intrusion: “Well, I’d have to rack my brain a bit, but I cannot recall any instance.”
Senator Wyden immediately opens his time by telling Sessions that he’s tired of his “stonewalling” and his refusal to provide the American Public and the Intelligence Committee with the extremely pertinent details of his interactions with President Trump is unacceptable.
Wyden references that FBI personnel had been calling for Sessions’ recusal over 2 weeks before he had done so and is curious as to why he waited that long.
“I am not stonewalling. I am following the historic practices of the Department of Justice. You don’t walk into any committee hearing or meeting and reveal confidential communications with the President of the United States, whose entitled to receive your best judgement on a host of issues, so I will not answer to that, I will push back on that.” – Sessions. Editorial note: As of now, there are no clear answers as to what “historic practices” AG Sessions is referring to.
Wyden: The question is Mr. Comey said there were matters in respect to your recusal that were problematic and he couldn’t talk about them. What are they?
Sessions: I…why don’t you tell me? There are none, Senator Wyden! There are none! I will tell you that for absolute certain. This is a secret innuendo that’s being leaked out there about me and I don’t appreciate it and I’ve tried to give my best and truthful answers to any committee I’ve appeared before and people are suggesting, through innuendo, that I am not being honest.
Did Sessions’ recommendation of Comey’s firing violate Sessions’ self-imposed recusal? According to Sessions, it didn’t. Wyden says that this “doesn’t pass the smell test”, citing Trump’s numerous tweets that he believed the Russia investigation is a hoax. Editorial Note: Even if Sessions is to be believed and had no knowledge of the progress of the investigation or had any interest in protecting Trump with Comey’s firing, his input into key officers of the investigation, especially their employment, is an immediate violation of that recusal.
Sessions said that he and the current Deputy Attorney General had been talking about Comey’s performance in the FBI before either had been confirmed. Sessions felt the department needed a “fresh start” after the handling of the Hillary Clinton investigations.
Senator Collins made a point to state that Sessions was right to recuse himself from the Russia investigation but is still unsure as to why he submitted a letter of recommendation for Comey’s dismissal to President Trump on May 9th.
Collins: My question is…Why do you believe that your recommendation to fire Director Comey was not inconsistent with your March 2nd recusal?
Sessions: Thank you. Uh, the recusal involved one case involved in the Depart of Justice and in the FBI. They conduct thousands of investigations. I’m the Attorney General of the United States, it’s my responsibility to our judiciary committee and other committees to ensure that that Department is run properly. I have to make difficult decisions and I do not believe it is not a sound position to say that if you’re recused for a single case involving of the great agencies like DEA or U.S. Marshals or ATF that are part of the Department of Justice that you can’t make judgement on the leadership of those agencies.
Sessions says that if Comey had any real concerns about the Flynn investigation, Trump’s request to have Comey “make the Flynn investigation go away” or Sessions’ recusal from the Flynn investigation, then he should’ve informed Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente about them, first and foremost.
Senator Heinrich took the opening sections of his time to address Sessions’ continuing unwillingness to answer questions or give details about his interactions with President Trump, going as far to say he will not be fielding any of these inquiries at all, not even offering answers in closed session.
Senator Heinrich reminds Sessions of the oath he took before the hearing began and states that Sessions is now “impeding this investigation”. He continues: “So, my understanding of the legal standard is that you either answer the question, that’s the best outcome, you say ‘This is classifed, can’t answer here, I’ll answer it in closed session, that’s bucket #2. Bucket #3 is to say ‘I’m invoking executive privilege’. There is no appropriateness bucket. It is not a legal standard. Can you tell me what are these long-standing DOJ rules that protect conversation made in the executive without invoking executive privilege.”
Sessions says he is “protecting President Trump’s constitutional right by not giving ‘it’ away before he has a chance to review [these questions].” When asked if this is because of the “appropriateness” legal standard when answering Congressional inquiries, Sessions continues that it is “his judgement” to protect the President and his privacy in this hearing.
In regards to their cooperation in this Congressional investigation: “I think your silence, like the silence of Director Cotes, like the silence of Admiral Rogers, speaks volumes.” – Senator Heinrich
Heinrich points out that it’s “strange that neither [him] nor Deputy General Rod Rosenstein brought up job performance issues to Director Comey” and that it “appears that the President decided to fire Director Comey because he was pursuing the Russia investigation and had asked [Sessions] to come up with an excuse”, also referencing that Trump admitted to firing Comey because of the Russia investigation in the Lester Holt interview on NBC. All these things taken into account, Heinrich feels that this proves Sessions’ violation of his recusal from the Russia investigation. Sessions responded by elaborating further on his and Deputy Director Rosenstein’s great displeasure with the Clinton investigation, especially Comey’s performance.
Chairman Burr takes time to correct the record and state that Admiral Rogers did, indeed, come into closed Intelligence Committee session Monday night and answered questions in full compliance for over 2 hours.
Sessions did not have a room at the Mayflower Hotel where private meetings could’ve happened from the April 2016 event. He maintains that he did not have a “meeting” with Kislyak at that event, but that he may of encountered him at the event during the reception.
When asked by Senator Blunt, Sessions says that he and his Chief of Staff recalls reminding Comey of the outstanding written policies of the DOJ concerning communications with the White House and told him “in the long run, he’s much better off if did”. He continues to maintain that he didn’t shrug Comey’s concerns off as Comey said in his testimony.
Senator Blunt takes time at the end of his statements and questions to discuss the idea that Trump may have said many things about Director Comey and may have said that he wanted to fire him and get rid of him, stating that “many of the people here on this diocese today may have said they were going to fire or get rid of somebody and didn’t”, but those comments have no bearing on the decision he actually made and that doesn’t prove whether Sessions’ letter to President Trump was, in any way, impactful or unnecessary. Editorial note: The way it was worded, it seemed like an odd tack-on at the end of his time that was meant explain why Sessions’ letter or any of Trump’s statements could very well be harmless.
Senator King opens by asking Sessions if the President has personally invoked his executive privilege for Sessions for the testimony today, Sessions says no. King tells Sessions that he “cannot have it both ways” here in this testimony, that Trump has to protect his rights when it’s his time to, not Sessions, and that he’s being “selective” in his testimony. Sessions denies all of that and insists that he can “protect the right of the President to invoke his executive privilege”. This was hotly contested between King and Sessions Editorial Note: That’s not how executive privilege works. Either Sessions, our Attorney General, doesn’t know that or he’s in contempt of court.
King says there was a memorandum put on by the intellegence community, after the election but before Trump’s Inauguration that detailed the potential severity of the Intelligence attack on the United States by the Russians. Sessions says that he did not know of any such report and never thought to follow up on any information that could’ve come from a report like that, stating that King and the Committee would’ve been “very critical of him” for following up on any such information as an active part of the campaign.
Sessions confirms there is no formal written evaluation of Comey’s performance to go along with the letter.
Senator Lankford opens his time by referencing, among other things, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein’s testimony and his statements that there is no depth to the rumor of Trump considering firing Former Director Mueller, saying that he is the only personal capable of relieving Mueller from his duties.
Sessions maintains that his lack of involvement from the Russia/Trump campaign investigation since his entry into office is not only due to his recusal but due to his “abundance of caution”.
The National Interest, which hosted the event at the Mayflower Hotel last April, said in a statement that they decided on the guest list for the event, including the decision to invite Russian Ambassador Kislyak, going on record to explain: “We regularly invite ambassadors and other foreign representatives to our events to facilitate dialogue.”
Once Sessions recognized the statement also mentioned that the National Interest has “no record” of any conversations between Sessions and Kislyak, Lankform yielded the rest of his time.