Tag Archives: Warner

Sessions’ Testimony Evaluated – Part 3

In the previous post, I began reviewing the questioning by the Committee following Sessions’ opening statement. While this is “old news” in one sense, I believe Sessions will yet come to play an important role in the Trump-Russia saga; it is, therefore, appropriate to fully consider the issues raised by his testimony under oath before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

We left off the last post with a brief discussion of the inexplicable reality that Sessions claimed to have agreed with Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein in discussions prior to Sessions’ confirmation as Attorney General that Comey’s conduct as FBI Director was unacceptable, yet he never discussed the issue with Comey. Instead he, allegedly, waited until President Trump asked for recommendations from Rosenstein and Sessions regarding Comey’s status.

Of course, Trump subsequently stated in the Lester Holt interview that he had already decided to fire Comey because of the Russia investigation. One interpretation of this is that Trump set up Rosenstein and Sessions by asking for their recommendation when he didn’t need it, then used it as a cover which he subsequently blew due to his obsession with being seen as the all-powerful leader who needs no help from underlings in making important decisions.

Returning to the hearing, Senator Warner asked whether Sessions ever discussed with Comey what happened in the Comey-Trump meeting from which all others were asked to leave the room. Sessions never answered the question but did confirm that Comey was concerned about the meeting and that Comey’s recall of what he, Comey, said to Sessions about the meeting was consistent with Sessions’ recall.

This episode is concerning because it illustrates that these Senators, who have a critically important role to play as investigators, are perhaps not being properly supported by staff who should be passing them notes or whispering in their ear to assure that complete follow-up questions are pursued. Not all Senators are equally equipped to engage in effective cross-examination of evasive witnesses and should have some professional and timely legal help when it matters most.

One of the most interesting parts of the questioning related to Sessions’ justification for having recused himself from the Russia investigation but nevertheless participating in the firing of Comey. Sessions said the Russia investigation was just one of thousands underway and that he had a responsibility to manage the leadership of the Department of Justice and thus could, in effect, disregard the Russia investigation when making the leadership call.

There was considerable sparring between Senator Heinrich and Sessions regarding the latter’s refusal to answer questions about conversations with President Trump, to the point at which Heinrich flatly accused Sessions of impeding the Committee’s investigation:

you are obstructing that congressional investigation by not answering these questions, and I think your silence, like the silence of Director Coats, like the silence of Admiral Rogers speaks volumes.

Sessions then sought refuge in advice he claimed to have received from DOJ lawyers that Sessions’ preservation of Trump’s later ability to assert Executive Privilege was proper. Heinrich accepted that claim at face value without further exploration, wondering aloud why Sessions had not said that initially. Heinrich ended his examination with this statement:

I find it strange that neither you nor deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein brought up performance issues with director Comey, and, in fact, deputy FBI director McCabe has directly refuted any assertion that there were performance issues.

It is worth noting that after Heinrich implicated Coats and Rogers, Chairman Burr came to their defense, pointing out that Rogers had testified in closed session for two hours and that all questions could then have been asked of him. It appears that political kinship counts for more than truth seeking in these proceedings.

I am going to close this post with a long quotation of the Q&A between Senator King and Sessions, interspersed with my “English translation” of Sessions’ responses. The quote mainly speaks for itself.

SESSIONS: What we try to do, I think most cabinet officials, others that you questioned recently, officials before the committee, protect the president’s right to do so [assert Executive Privilege]. If it comes to a point where the issue is clear and there’s a dispute about it, at some point the president will either assert the privilege or not or some other privilege would be asserted, but at this point I believe it’s premature. [emphasis added]

KING: You’re asserting a privilege.

SESSIONS: It would be premature for me to deny the president a full and intelligent choice about executive privilege. That’s not necessary at this point.

In English, Sessions is saying that he is not going to answer, now or in the future, questions that might reveal anything about the President’s statements or statement made to the President unless and until two conditions are met: (1) “the issue is clear and there’s a dispute about it,” and (2) the President asserts some privilege related to it. Until then, Sessions rather than the Intelligence Committee will decide whether it is necessary to take the questions to the President and right now it’s “not necessary” so let’s move on.” And he gets away with it again.

King then asked Sessions for his view about Russian interference in the 2016 elections. Sessions’ answer is astounding for someone who had previously claimed he was responsible for managing the Department of Justice:

KING: Do you believe the Russians interfered with the 2016 elections?

SESSIONS: It appears so. The intelligence community seems to be united in that, but I have to tell you, senator king, I know nothing but what I’ve read in the paper. I’ve never received any details, briefing on how hacking occurred or how information was alleged to have influenced the campaigns.

KING: Between the election, there was a memorandum from the intelligence community on October 9th, that detailed what the Russians were doing after the election, before the inauguration. You never sought any information about this rather dramatic attack on our country?

SESSIONS: No.

KING: You never asked for a briefing or attended a briefing or ruled are the intelligence reports?

SESSIONS: You might have been very critical if I as an active part of the campaign was seeking intelligence related to something that might be relevant to the campaign. I’m not sure —

KING: I’m not talking about the campaign. I’m talking about what the Russians did. You received no briefing on the Russian active measures in connection with the 2016 election.

SESSIONS: No, I don’t believe I ever did.

Sessions’ Testimony Evaluated – Part 2

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.