In the previous post, I discussed the opening of Attorney General Sessions’ testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. In this part, I will begin reviewing the questioning by the Committee:
Chairman Burr began by asking about Trump’s Foreign Policy Speech at the Mayflower Hotel, to which, as noted in Part 1, the Russian Ambassador, and known spy, Sergey Kislyak was invited. Burr offered up this softball:
Would you say you were there as a United States Senator or as a surrogate of the campaign for this event?
To which Sessions said:
I came there as an interested person and very anxious to see how President Trump would do in his first major foreign policy address. I believe he had only given one major speech before and that was maybe at the Jewish event. It was an interesting time for me to observe his delivery and the message he would make. That was my main purpose of being there.
What? Sessions was sworn in as Attorney General on February 9, recused himself from the Trump-Russia investigation on March 2 and on April 27, the date of the Mayflower speech, he wants us to believe he was just another guy interested to see how the President would handle himself at his second big speech, the first having been given at the “Jewish event.” Wait, the “Jewish event?” What kind of language is that? The reference is to Holocaust Remembrance Day, which was two days before the Mayflower event.
Putting that aside, for now, Sessions’ explanation for his presence at the Mayflower speech simply beggars the imagination. He was present at an invitation-only VIP reception for about two dozen people, including Kislyak, and it is utterly implausible that he was there just out of curiosity about Trump’s speech-making capabilities.
Sessions then introduced the concept of “appropriateness” to his testimony. When Senator Warner asked for a commitment to make himself (Sessions) available to the committee in the weeks/months ahead, Sessions said he would do so “as appropriate,” citing his belief that it was not “good policy” to “continually bring cabinet members or the attorney general before multiple committees going over the same things over and over.” Then this ensued:
WARNER: Appropriations committee raised that issue.
SESSIONS: I just gave you my answer.
WARNER: Can we get your commitment since there will be questions about the meetings that took place or not, access to documents or memoranda or your day book or something?
SESSIONS: We will be glad to provide appropriate responses to your questions and review them carefully. [emphasis added]
Sessions continued to avoid answering even simple direct questions:
WARNER: You have confidence [Robert Mueller] will do the job?
SESSIONS: I will not discuss hypotheticals or what might be a factual situation in the future that I’m not aware of today. I know nothing about the investigation. I fully recuse myself.
WARNER: I have a series of questions, sir. Do you believe the president has confidence?
SESSIONS: I have not talked to him about it.
There then ensued a struggle between Sen. Warner and Sessions over whether anyone at DOJ had discussed presidential pardons with “any of the individuals involved with the Russia investigation.” Interestingly, Sessions treated that question as seeking information about conversations with the President and refused to answer. Warner asked about “other Department of Justice or White House officials,” but again Sessions refused.
We have a right to have full and robust debate within the Department of Justice and encourage people to speak up and argue cases on different sides. Those arguments are not — historically we have seen they shouldn’t be revealed.
This, I suggest, is tantamount to a statement that the Department of Justice will simply not answer to the investigative bodies within the United States Congress. It would be quite significant if DOJ lawyers were already talking about presidential pardons related to Trump-Russia, but Sessions essentially said “none of your business.”
Finally, for today, Warner did obtain Sessions’ concession that while he claimed to have had severe concerns about James Comey’s performance as FBI director even prior to being confirmed as Attorney General, he never discussed those concerns with Comey. Instead, he endorsed Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein’s memo to the President that Comey should be summarily fired.