Jeff Sessions, the Great Evader - Pacific Standard

Jeff Sessions, the Great Evader

Attorney General Jeff Sessions testified in an open hearing held by the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, but those hoping for deeper insight into the FBI's ongoing Russia investigation were left disappointed.
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Attorney General Jeff Sessions testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee on June 13th, 2017.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee on June 13th, 2017.

In a two-hour-long open Senate hearing on Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions responded to questions about his involvement in the firing of former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey, and about his alleged involvement in helping the campaign of then-candidate Donald Trump collude with Russian officials.

While Sessions dropped a few revealing claims—like the assertion that he didn't discuss any of Comey's alleged improprieties with him before he was fired—the hearing was mostly a boon for Trump, whose communications with Sessions the attorney general largely kept under wraps.

Below, the most telling moments of the hearing.

Sessions denied colluding with Russian officials to rig the 2016 election in Trump's favor...

In his testimony, Sessions vehemently denied allegations that he had actively worked with Russian officials to hack into the Democratic National Committee's voter database, or to help shore up votes for Trump. "The suggestion that I participated in any collusion or knew of collusion [between campaign officials and Russia] is an appalling and detestable lie," Sessions said.

...But flatly denied little else.

In an at-times remarkable display of ignorance, Sessions evaded tough questions by claiming he either didn't know or couldn't remember the particulars of certain events.

When Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) ran through a list of Trump campaign surrogates and affiliated staffers—like Corey Lewandowski, Jared Kushner, and Steve Bannon—asking if Sessions knew whether they had met with Russian officials during the campaign, the attorney general doubled down on both responses. "I don't recall any of those individuals doing so; I don't know," Sessions testified. When Manchin and Kamala Harris (D-California) asked Sessions if testifying had jogged his memory about any other meetings with Russian nationals that Sessions might not have yet disclosed, he hedged again: "I've racked my brain and I do not believe so."

Sessions also claimed he has no idea what's going on with the Russia investigation. "Hear me on this," he said. "From that point, February 10th [the day after Sessions was sworn in] until my formal recusal on March 2nd, I was never briefed on any investigative details, did not access any information about the [Russia] investigation. I only received information from the [Department of Justice's] career officials. I have no knowledge of the investigation beyond what's been reported."

He went on to claim that, because he never asked for updates into the investigation between February 10th and March 2nd, he "basically recused [himself] the day [he] took office."

He defended his right to recommend that Trump fire Comey...

"The scope of the recusal cannot preclude me from doing my job to oversee the Department of Justice," Sessions told the committee, arguing that Trump had specifically instructed him and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to share their reservations about Comey keeping his job. Sessions argued that, even before he was sworn in, he believed that Comey botched Hillary Clinton's email investigation by making the details of it public, leaving the FBI in disarray; Sessions then argued that he'd always believed a "fresh start" was necessary at the bureau.

Though he defended his involvement in ousting Comey, Sessions acknowledged—after much prodding from Mark Warner (D-Virginia)—that he believed it would be "inappropriate" to suggest that Trump fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel hired to helm the investigation into the Trump campaign's ties with Russian officials.

...Despite admitting he never confronted Comey with his alleged reservations. 

Sessions, along with other Trump administration officials, has made public statements attesting that Comey was an unpopular leader at the FBI, and that his handling of then-candidate Clinton's private email server revealed an astonishing lack of professionalism.

But when Warner asked Sessions point-blank if he'd ever discussed these issues (or others) with Comey before he was fired, Sessions said, simply, "I did not."

He got personal...

From the outset, it was clear that Sessions attempted to get cozy with senators present by consistently referring to them as "my colleagues," a nod to his years in the Senate. Though he acknowledged he couldn't use the term anymore since he no longer serves in that capacity, he peppered his speech with reminders that he used to work very closely with those questioning him.

...With the wrong guy.

Sessions made clear that he wouldn't divulge the contents of private conversations he's had in recent months with Trump, citing a "long-standing rule" in the Department of Justice that prevents litigators from sharing personal or classified information involving the president. And while Trump could certainly invoke executive privilege, which would serve the same purpose, he hasn't done so, leading senators at the hearing to wonder what rule Sessions was referring to.

The most notable of these exchanges occurred when Harris demanded that Sessions point to a law that allows him to keep silent on matters involving conversations with the president; when Sessions responded that he "believes" it is a written law, Harris demanded to know why Sessions hadn't figured that out before he came to the hearing. For the second time in two weeks, Harris was cut off in the middle of questioning by the committee chair and asked to let Sessions continue speaking.

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