Today, June 13, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee in order to offer up his responses to last week’s controversial testimony from former FBI Director James Comey. Additionally, Sessions answered questions regarding the ongoing Russia investigation.
Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee include:
Richard Burr, North Carolina (Committee chairman)
James Risch, Idaho
Marco Rubio, Florida
Susan Collins, Maine
Roy Blunt, Missouri
James Lankford, Oklahoma
Tom Cotton, Arkansas
John Cornyn, Texas
Mark Warner, Virginia (ranking member)
Dianne Feinstein, California
Ron Wyden, Oregon
Martin Heinrich, New Mexico
Angus King, Maine
Joe Manchin, West Virginia
Kamala Harris, California
Sen. Mark Warner (D. Va) highlighted the unprecedented firing of the FBI director, who was leading the Russian investigation. Senator Warner indicated that the firing of Comey got in the way of the DOJ accomplishing important things.
Sessions responded to this statement saying that “A change at the top of the FBI should not affect the investigation. The teams that have been working on the investigation are still in place.”
Senator Reed spoke to Comey’s July 2016 actions regarding the Clinton investigation and Sessions responses at the time to them. Reed then brought up the November comments by sessions regarding Comey’s actions, when he said Comey had acted appropriately. How can Sessions now criticize Comey’s actions as being appropriate?
Reed asked whether he knew that Trump based any of his decision on firing Comey as being based on the Russian investigation.
Senator McCain of Arizona then spoke. He went over the Russian issues, and the threats they posed.
Senator Cornyn (Rep-Texas) went back over the timeline of the recusal. March 2nd was the formal recusal from the russian investigation. May 9th was the written letter regarding his opinion on firing Comey. So Sessions letter to Trump had nothing to do and did not mention the Russian investigation. Sessions agreed.
Cornyn then discussed specifics on what Rosenstein said was inappropriate in how Comey had handled the Hillary Clinton investigation. Sessions agreed.
Senator Harris (Dem-California) asked about Sessions’ testimony repeatedly saying “I do not recall,” etc.
Harris asked whether he would supply the committee with any notes he has regarding documents that may have a bearing on this hearing.
Sessions responded, “I will as appropriate.”
Harris asked whether he knew of any discussions between Trump people and Russian officials.
Sessions: I do not recall that.
Harris asked how he would communicate with Trump before Trump was president. Did he ever communicate with trump in writing? Sessions said no.
Harris kept hitting Sessions hard on why he was not briefed or did not go over on the actual DOJ policies regarding what he could disclose in the hearing.
Senator Cotton: Did Donald Trump or any of his associates collude with the Russians? (Senator Cotton stressed that the critical question is whether there was any collusion. Cotton took an aggressive approach, basically deriding the Democrats as being ridiculous in their interrogation and continued looking at some Russian collusion.)
Sessions: I didn’t participate in that and know nothing about it.
Cotton turned to the leaks that have come out of supposedly closed committee hearings, listing off several.
Sessions followed up by stressing that we cannot have staff and members of congress continuously leaking.
Senator Manchin (R-Oklahoma): Did you have any discussions or sat in on any meetings that involved recommendations to remove Russian sanctions?
Manchin: did you have any other meetings with russian officials?
Sessions: Not that i recall.
Manchin: How about Trump team people?
Sessions: Not that I recall.
Manchin began naming a list of trump campaign officials, and whether any of them had conversations with the Russians.
Sessions said he did not know or recall that any of them did.
Manchin: Would you go into a closed session so you could speak more openly?
Sessions: Maybe. I’m not sure that the executive privilege is waived by going into a closed session.
Are there any other meetings you had athat you haven’t disclosed.
Manchin: Any other meetings that haven’t been disclosed that you know of?
Manchin: The issue of the Russian hacking is very serious.
If Trump would have heard something about Russia, was there any conversations about it?
Sessions: Not that I recall.
Manchin: Did any of these individuals meet with Russian individuals during the campaign?
Sessions: I don’t recall any of those individuals having any meetings with any Russian officials. There may have been published accounts about Carter Page meeting with the Russians.
King: Do you believe the Russians interfered in the 2016 election?
Sessions: It appears so, as the intelligence agencies indicate this. But i know nothing more about it.
King: Your letter of May 9 – was it a written evaluation?
Sessions: That is an evaluation that went on for several months.
Sessions said Rosenstein explicitly laid out the errors Comey had made in handling the Hillary Clinton investigation, but that there may have been other issues regarding Comey as well.
Senator Angus King (Dem. – Maine): What is the legal basis for you not answering everything today? You said only the Presdient can assert executive privilege. You are not the President.
Sessions: At this point I believe it is premature for me to deny the president to make a choice regarding executive privilege.
Blunt: When Comey mentioned the 1:1 meeting with the president, did he mention Mr. Flynn?
Senator Blunt (Rep-Missouri): During the April 27, 2016 Mayflower event, you did not have a private room in which you held meetings with people like the Russian Ambassador, did you?
Sessions: How Comey handled the Hillary Clinton investigation was one of the considerations we had in advising Comey be let go.
Senator Heinrich: You took an oath to tell the whole truth, you are impeding this investigation. What are the longstanding DOJ rules that keep him from answering some of these things today.
are they written down?
Sessions: I believe the rules are written down. Some of the things you want me to discuss are things the President needs to be allowed to approve on whether I discuss them.
Republican Senator Susan Collins (Maine): When did you first talk with rosenstein about Comey?
Sessions: There had been too much leaking and public talking about investigations within the department.
Collins: On May 9 you wrote to the President recommending comey be dismissed. My question is, “Why do you think that recommendation was not inconsistent with your march 2 recusal?”
Sessions: I am the AG of the U.S. and my job is to ensure that that department is run properly and just because you recuse for a single case means you cannot make an opinion about the leadership of an agency (e.g. FBI). It is my responsibility as supervising the various federal agencies to give my opinion on the dismissal of Comey.
Senator Wyden (Democrat): Mr. Comey said your continued engagement in the Russian investigation was problematic. Were you aware of any concerns within the FBI or anyone else as to whether you should step aside regarding the Russian investigation?
Sessions: I am not stonewalling. I would push back on that. Second, Comey perhaps did not know that I recused myself early at the onset.
Wyden: Comey said there were issues with respect to the recusal that are problematic. What are they?
Sessions: There are none! This is just innuendo.
Wyden: “Point blank, why did you sign the letter recommending the Comey firing if it violated your recusal?”
Sessions: It did not violate my recusal.
Sessions: The letter that Rosenstein wrote represented my views of the situation.
Comey’s stated that Sessions “lingered” after others were asked to leave the meeting at the White House between Trump and Comey.
Sessions said he was one of the last two or three to leave before it was just Trump and Comey.
Sessions said that the day after the private conversation between Trump and Comey, he and Comey spoke regarding the appropriateness about Trump and Comey speaking privately.
Senator Feinstein: How exactly were you involved in the firing of Comey?
Senator Feinstein asked why Sessions had an involvement in the termination of Director Comey, as the President said he had already made up his mind to fire Comey?
Sessions: We were asked our opinion on firing comey and I felt comfortable in writing a memorandum concurring in Trump’s firing of Comey. “It was my best judgement that a fresh start at the FBI was appropriate.” Sessions read and agreed with Rosenstein’s letter regarding firing Comey.
Sessions said he would not be able to discuss the nature of private conversations he had with the President on this subject or others.
Sessions said he was not aware that Trump privately recorded any conversations that took place.
Sessions agrees that actual collusion would with a foreign government would be inappropriate.
Sessions: I did not hear, during the campaign, any talk within the campaign about knowledge of any Russian meddling
As far as AG Sessions understands, the “dossier” on Trump-Russia has been pretty much discredited as far as he understands.
Sessions said he participated in NO conversations of ANY kind where there was collusion.
Sessions said that nobody, including the president, has asked him to perform any unlawful or illegal act since becoming AG of the USA.
Sessions: I possibly had a meeting [with Kislyak], but I still do not recall it. I did not fail to record anything in my testimony or subsequent letter that was intentionally false.
No communications with Kislyak before or after the Mayflower event. Didn’t know Kislyak would be in the audience. Sessions was part of the VIP session at the Mayflower event.
Senator Warner: Sessions did not ask Comey what took place in the February meeting with Trump in which he was all alone? Comey didn’t tell Sessions any details. Sessions said they should follow the guidelines of the DOJ. The next day Comey expressed concern about being left alone with the president, but Comey did not provide Sessions any details on the the Trump-Comey discussion.
According to Sessions, he had no conversations about Director Comey regarding things that led to his termination by the president.
Warner: Did you ever have a discussion with Comey about any allegations of him not running the FBI well?
Sessions: I did not.
Senator Warner to Sessions: Will you make yourself available to the committee going forward as needed?
Senator Sessions said he did not think it was good to bring numerous people in front of the different committees.
Warner: Yesterday a friend of Trump said Trump was considering removing Mueller as special counsel.
Sessions doesn’t know if the president has confidence in Director Mueller.
Sessions would not push to get Mueller removed. He stated, “I know nothing about [having Mueller removed] and have confidence in Mueller and I will not take part in hypotheticals.”
Sessions: “I have not had interactions with special counsel Robert Mueller. What is problematic for any DOJ employee to talk about ongoing investigations that are not cleared through the top levels of the DOJ.” Sessions said he was never briefed on the Russian investigation and never spoke to the president about the investigation.
Why did Sessions recuse himself? To comply with the CFR (Code of Federal Regulations), put out by the DOJ. It wasn’t because he thought he was under investigation. It was the Trump campaign was under investigation.
Sessions did not remember that Kislyak was at the Mayflower Hotel event in 2016. But he understands that Kislyak was there. Sessions does not remember having a meeting with Kislyak.
Was there as an “interested person,” anxious to see how Trump would do in his major policy address. That was Sessions’ main purpose for being at this event.
Sessions: “I have dedicated myself to the highest standards. I have an earned a reputation for that… This president [Trump] wants to focus on the people of this country to be sure they are treated fairly and kept safe.” This is an agenda Sessions shares.
Sessions stated that he was sworn in as ag on 2/9/17, he recused himself on 3/2/17 from the Russian investigation, and has taken no action in regards to such an investigation. He recused himself not because of any asserted wrongdoing but because a DOJ regulation requires it: Department employees should not be involved in any investigation of a campaign if they had been a part of that campaign. He agreed with Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein on the dismissal of Comey.
Sessions: Does not recall any meetings or conversations with the Russian Ambassador at the Mayflower Hotel. He went on to say that he neither colluded or is aware of any collusion by Trump officials with any Russian meddling in the U.S. election. Senator Franken had made an explosive allegation about Sessions being part of any Russian-Trump people collusion. Sessions absolutely denies it.
Republican Senator Richard Burr said the Intelligence Committee is investigating the Russia issues, among other things.
He went on to say that the committee would be asking questions such as:
Did you have any involvement with the Russians?
What was your involvement with Trump’s cabinet and any Russians?
Why did you recuse yourself?
What was your role in firing Comey?
Burr also said he hopes all the Senators will focus on the Russia investigation and not on taking political or partisan “shots.”
The hearing has begun. This is the 10th open hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee this year.
70-year-old AG Jeff Sessions has just taken his seat at the witness table.