Attorney General Jeff Sessions corroborated a key aspect of fired James Comey’s testimony, saying the fired FBI director came to him about President Trump buttonholed him for a one-on-one meeting in the Oval Office.
Comey ‘expressed concern about being left alone with the president,’ Sessions told the Senate Intelligence Committee when questioned about Comey’s bombshell testimony to the same panel last week.
Even as he advanced the Comey narrative, other aspects of Sessions’ testimony left Democrats agitated. One of them accused him of ‘impeding’ and ‘obstructing’ the congressional investigation into Russian election interference, based on his refusal to reveal the contents of conversations with President Trump – or whether the two men even discussed the the Russia probe he ultimately recused himself from.
Sessions repeatedly said he did not ‘recall’ having a third undisclosed meeting with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., nor did he remember much about the substance of two conversations he has acknowledged.
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He emphatically denied any ‘collusion’ with Russia, and said that in ‘retrospect’ Comey’s handling of the Clinton investigation was worse than he thought when he was a Trump advisor battling Hillary Clinton.
His refusal to answer certain questions – without invoking executive privilege for the president – failed to shed much light on whether the Russia probe was the real reason President Trump fired Comey as head of the FBI, something that could factor into an obstruction of justice case should a special counsel decide to bring one.
Sessions expressed ‘confidence’ in special counsel Robert Mueller, who some Trump associates have floated could get fired by the president, but didn’t give a stirring defense.
‘I have confidence in Mr. Mueller but I am not going to discuss any hypotheticals or what might be a factual situation in the future,’ Sessions said.
Sessions also confirmed another element of Comey’s account – that Sessions was among the last to depart a counter terrorism meeting at the White House, though he didn’t use Comey’s word that he ‘lingered.’
But Sessions diverged from Comey’s account, that Sessions remained silent after the complaint.
Sessions says he told Comey that ‘he should not carry on any conversation with the president or anyone else about an investigation in a way that was not proper.’
He also said Comey didn’t share the substance of what the President said that had raised his alarm. Comey testified that Trump asked him to back off an investigation of fired national security advisor Mike Flynn.
‘He did not tell me at that time any details about anything that was said that was improper,’ Sessions said.
There were limits on what Sessions would talk about.
Sessions said he was not invoking executive privilege – a limited power belonging to the president. But he told Sen. Warner there were limits to what he would say.
‘It’s longstanding policy the Department of justice not to comment on conversations that the attorney general has had with the president of the United States for confidential reasons that really are founded in the coequal branch powers in the Constitution of the United States,’ Sessions said.
‘I’m not able to discuss with you or confirm or deny the nature of private conversations that I may have had with the president on this subject or others,’ Sessions said at one point during his prolonged grilling Tuesday.
‘That’s a communication in the White House that I would not comment on,’ he told Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
After one such dodge, Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) scolded Sessions. ‘You’re impeding this investigation,’ he said, asking Sessions to explain his legal or policy basis for not answering.