Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Politics

Attorney General Jeff Sessions next up for Capitol Hill testimony

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions is in for sharp questioning by senators Tuesday on the extent of his contacts with Russian officials during the presidential campaign and of his involvement in the firing of FBI chief James Comey.

Whether that hearing will be public or closed is not known.

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said Sunday "there's a real question of the propriety" of Sessions' involvement in Comey's dismissal, because Sessions had stepped aside from the federal investigation into contacts between Russia and the Trump campaign. Comey was leading that probe.

Reed said he also wants to know if Sessions had more meetings with Russian officials as a Trump campaign adviser than have been disclosed.

Trump on Sunday accused Comey of "cowardly" leaks and predicted many more from him. "Totally illegal?" he asked in a tweet. "Very 'cowardly!'"

Several Republican lawmakers also criticized Comey for disclosing memos he had written in the aftermath of his private conversations with Trump, calling that action "inappropriate." But, added GOP Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, "releasing his memos is not damaging to national security." Lankford is on the intelligence committee, the forum for last week's riveting Comey testimony and Tuesday's hearing.

The New York City federal prosecutor who expected to remain on the job when Trump took office but ended up being fired said he was made uncomfortable by one-on-one interactions with the president — just like Comey was. Preet Bharara told ABC's "This Week" that Trump was trying to "cultivate some kind of relationship" with him when he called him twice before the inauguration to "shoot the breeze."

He said Trump reached out to him again after the inauguration but he refused to call back, shortly before he was fired.

On Comey's accusations that Trump pressed him to drop the FBI investigation of his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, Bharara said "no one knows right now whether there is a provable case of obstruction" of justice. But: "I think there's absolutely evidence to begin a case."

Sessions stepped aside in March from the federal investigation into contacts between Russia and the campaign after acknowledging that had met twice last year with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. He had told lawmakers at his January confirmation hearing that he had not met with Russians during the campaign.

Sessions has been dogged by questions about possible additional encounters with the ambassador, Sergey Kislyak.

As for the timing of his recusal, Comey said the FBI expected the attorney general to take himself out of the matters under investigation weeks before he actually did. Comey declined to elaborate in an open setting.

In a letter Saturday to Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., Sessions said that he had been scheduled to discuss the Justice Department budget before House and Senate committees but it had become clear some members would focus their questions on the Russia investigation.

Sessions said his decision to accept the intelligence committee's invitation to appear was due in part to Comey's testimony. He wrote that "it is important that I have an opportunity to address these matters in the appropriate forum" and he would have his deputy deal with the budget hearings.

Briefing congressional appropriators on the Justice Department's budget is a critical part of the attorney general's job. The fact that Sessions would delegate that task showed the Russia investigation was distracting him from his core duties.

Lankford appeared on CBS' "Face the Nation." Reed was on "Fox News Sunday."

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