Senators Tear Into Jeff Sessions for Refusing to Explain Why He Won't Answer Questions About Trump Under Oath
Speaking loudly and sternly, Sessions denied ever personally colluding with any Russian officials during the 2016 campaign whilst serving as a surrogate to then-candidate
After ex-FBI Director James Comey testified last week that Sessions was dismissed from the Oval Office so President Trump could try to persuade him to drop an investigation into Michael Flynn (his disgraced former national security advisor) many questions lingered. In that regard, Sessions confirmed many aspects of what Comey had to say.
Sessions confirmed, for example, that Comey approached him a day after the Oval Office meeting, at the butt of which Trump dismissed everyone except for Comey, including Sessions and Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law. Comey reported that during this private exchange, the president tried to convince him to drop the FBI's investigation into Flynn, who has since been the target of a grand jury subpoena and has publicly tried to gain immunity in exchange for testimony.
Sessions said Comey did in fact approach him to express "concern about proper communications protocol with the White House and the president." He also confirmed Comey did not explicitly detail what provoked his worry-Comey testified that the FBI leadership concluded it was best to leave Sessions in the dark about the president's request, re: Flynn, since the Bureau was aware Sessions would be forced to recuse himself from all matters Russian.
Astonishingly, Sessions asserted that nothing is "problematic" about Trump pulling the FBI director into a private meeting amid an investigation involving his campaign.
Yet, somehow, that was hardly the most interesting part of the hearing. Time and again, Sessions refused to say whether he'd been a part of any discussions about Comey's firing. He also refused to answer under what authority he was refusing to answer that question.
During a heated exchange with Sen.
Heinrich : "Attorney General Sessions, has the president ever expressed his frustration to you regarding your decision to recuse yourself?"
Sessions : "Senator Heinrich, I'm not, um, able to share with this committee private communications..."
Heinrich : "Because you're invoking executive privilege?"
Sessions : "I'm not able to invoke executive privilege. That's the president's prerogative."
Heinrich immediately tore into Sessions, accusing him of "impeding" the panel's investigation. "My understanding of the legal standard is that you either answer the question-that's the best outcome-or you say, 'This is classified. Can't answer it here. I'll answer in closed session.'" After Heinrich noted that Sessions had no legal right to remain silent, and the president had not exerted executive privilege, Sessions responded by stating outright that his unwillingness to respond was an attempt to protect the president.
"Senator, I'm protecting the president's constitutional right by not giving it away before he has a chance to," Sessions said. "It is my judgment that it would be inappropriate for me to answer and reveal private conversations with the president when he is [sic] not had a full opportunity to review the questions and to make a decision on whether or not to approve such an answer."
Heinrich fired back, again accusing Sessions of "impeding" the panel's investigation. His silence spoke volumes, Heinrich said.
Sessions' responses were equally aloof during an earlier portion of the hearing in which Senator Mike Warner, the panel's ranking Democrat, asked whether he had any knowledge of any discussions at DOJ about potentially pardoning Trump's associates. Sessions simply declined to respond-likewise, he did not explain specifically under what authority he had decided to do so.
A spokesperson for Sen. Ron Wyden, who also had
a testy exchange with Sessions
, told Gizmodo he agreed with Heinrich's assessment that the attorney general was impeding the panel's investigation.