Jeff Sessions will be at center stage today when his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee begins at 2:30 pm.
Given the issues that have popped up in the past couple of weeks, we can anticipate his opening statement and the subsequent questions will fall into the following areas:
a. Did he meet with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at the Mayflower Hotel and not disclose the meeting?
Last week James Comey hinted that classified intelligence, presumably intercepted Russian communications, indicated that Sessions met with Kislyak in April 2016. Sessions is expected to say a) he may have met Kislyak at an event, b) he doesn’t recall such a meeting, and c) under no circumstances did he actually have a meeting/discussion with Kislyak.
b. Why did Sessions allegedly not disclose some meetings with Kislyak and other foreign officials on his security clearance application?
This is not even a serious question. The form clearly defines contacts with foreigners as:
You must indicate whether you have, or have had, close and/or continuing contact with a foreign national within the last seven years with whom you, or your spouse, or cohabitant are bound by affection, influence, common interests, and/or obligation.
But the question will be asked and the Democrat asking the question will dispute the clear language of the form and the professional advice of the FBI agent advising Sessions on the form. As an aside, a federal judge in DC has ordered Justice to release part of Sessions’ security clearance application based on a FOIA request. I don’t see how that works as the SF-86 is not covered by FOIA but is covered by the Privacy Act of 1973. So I’m attributing this to street theater.
c. How did the discussion with Comey over Trump’s conversations play out?
Comey has claimed that Trump’s conversations made him “uncomfortable” and that he told Sessions that he didn’t want to be alone with Trump again. Comey says Sessions said nothing. Sessions version was released by Justice and says Sessions told Comey that he had to educate the White House on how to handle questions with Justice or the FBI.
During his testimony, Mr. Comey confirmed that he did not inform the Attorney General of his concerns about the substance of any one-on-one conversation he had with the President. Mr. Comey said, following a morning threat briefing, that he wanted to ensure he and his FBI staff were following proper communications protocol with the White House. The Attorney General was not silent; he responded to this comment by saying that the FBI and Department of Justice needed to be careful about following appropriate policies regarding contacts with the White House.
I don’t see this as a huge deal and if I had to weigh in I think Comey’s story of saying he didn’t want to be alone with the president again and getting no response is unlikely. I don’t see what Sessions would have to gain by saying nothing and I don’t see how any person could hear Comey’s alleged statement and say nothing. Absent an independent witness or video/audio recording this will remain as irreconcilable.
When/why did Sessions decide to recuse himself?
Comey claims that he was never told Sessions was planning to recuse himself but thought he would because of undisclosed and mysterious reasons. He also claimed Justice never established the nature of Sessions’ recusal. Justice says Sessions began examining recusal shortly after he was confirmed by the Senate and produced an email sent to Comey telling him specifically what he could and could not discuss with Sessions.
d. Comey’s firing.
Sessions is going to be asked about Comey’s firing. I don’t suspect we’re going to learn anything there as the likelihood of Sessions divulging any conversation he had with Trump approaches zero.
e. What about the Trump-Comey meeting where Trump sent everyone out of the room?
Comey says he objected to Sessions afterward and Sessions said nothing.
f. Will Sessions fire Mueller?
The story that Trump is considering firing the special counsel, Robert Mueller, is making the rounds. Sessions is inevitably going to be asked about this.
g. Sessions’ confirmation testimony.
I can imagine Sessions being accused of perjury by one or more Democrat senators because of alleged undisclosed contacts with the Russian ambassador. And no matter how silly these allegation sound they serve a purpose.
The real context of this hearing has nothing to do with anything concerning Trump or Comey or the Russia probe. The Democrats failed to brand Sessions as a racist and the purpose today is to take a second bite at the apple by questioning Sessions’ credibility and to damage him professionally because that will pay off downstream.