Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Politics

Sessions will testify in open hearing before Senate Intelligence Committee

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions will testify in a hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, and it will be open to the public, according to the committee's leaders.

Sessions will be testifying before Congress for the first time since he was confirmed as attorney general in February. In light of former FBI director James Comey's testimony last week, Sessions is expected to get many questions from lawmakers about his contacts with Russian officials during the 2016 election campaign.

Comey said last week that the bureau had information about Sessions — before he recused himself from overseeing the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election — that would have made it "problematic" for him to be involved in the probe. The former director did not elaborate in public on the nature of the information.

Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said Sessions requested that the committee hearing be public.

"He believes it is important for the American people to hear the truth directly from him and looks forward to answering the committee's questions tomorrow," said Flores.

The hearing will be held Tuesday at 2:30 p.m.

Sessions, who had agreed to testify this week before the Senate and House appropriations subcommittees about the Justice Department budget, wrote the chairmen of the committees Saturday and said he was sending his deputy to testify instead. He asked to testify instead before the Senate Intelligence Committee, but it had been unclear whether that hearing would be open to the public.

To accommodate schedules, the hearing will be held at the normal time that the Senate Intelligence panel meets each Tuesday.

Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Sessions negotiated details of the hearing directly, according to aides familiar with their talks. While the hearing will be held in public, there has been no time scheduled — at least as of Monday morning — for Sessions to stick around and testify in a closed hearing to discuss classified matters, according to those aides, who were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

While several committee members, including Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Angus King, I-Maine had voiced support for a public hearing, other members have complained that doing so will inevitably lead to a brick wall, where Sessions will say he cannot discuss certain matters in public. That prompted at least some members of the committee to push for a closed hearing, or at least some allotted time to meet with Sessions privately after the public forum, aides said.

In early March, the Washington Post reported that Sessions twice met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the campaign and did not disclose that to the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearing in January. The next day, Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation and said it would be overseen by his deputy attorney general, who last month appointed a special counsel to handle the probe.

Several lawmakers, especially Democrats asked the leaders of the committee to insist it be open to the public and the press.

"I urge that the Committee hold a hearing with the Attorney General in the open so that the American people can hear for themselves what he has to say with regard to connections to the Russians and the President's abuse of power," wrote Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., on Sunday.

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