U.S. Rep. from Florida spars with Ses­sions

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By An­thony Man Staff writer

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions con­firmed for the first time that he was aware of some Trump cam­paign con­tacts with Rus­sia. At the hear­ing Tues­day, U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida said “the rule of law is crum­bling at our feet.”

After pep­per­ing At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions with a se­ries of crit­i­cal ques­tions Tues­day, U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch said the re­sponses were alarm­ing: “When you an­swer the way you have, it sug­gests that the rule of law is crum­bling at our feet.”

Ses­sions de­clined to say whether he thinks Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has the au­thor­ity to fire spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller, who is in­ves­ti­gat­ing Rus­sian med­dling in the 2016 elec­tion and any Trump cam­paign in­volve­ment. To Deutch, that raised the pos­si­bil­ity of an­other “Satur­day Night Mas­sacre” — the night when then-Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon or­dered the fir­ing of the spe­cial Water­gate spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor.

The com­bat­ive ex­change came about two hours into a House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee hear­ing that lasted much of the day. Repub­li­cans were gen­er­ally friendly to­ward Ses­sions and Democrats gen­er­ally crit­i­cal of the at­tor­ney gen­eral, who was a prominent Trump sup­porter dur­ing last year’s cam­paign.

Deutch, who rep­re­sents most of Broward and south­east Palm Beach County, was in the un­friendly camp.

He first pressed Ses­sions to iden­tify whether he works for the Amer­i­can peo­ple or Trump. Amer­i­can peo­ple, Ses­sions said.

Deutch went through events that cul­mi­nated in the fir­ing of for­mer FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey, some­thing Trump said he did be­cause of the on­go­ing Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Then they went back and forth.

Deutch: “Gen. Ses­sions, do you think it would be rea­son­able for the mem­bers of this com­mit­tee to con­clude that the pres­i­dent, by first in­ter­fer­ing in one in­ves­ti­ga­tion and then in­ter­fer­ing in an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into him­self, com­mit­ted ob­struc­tion of jus­tice?”

Ses­sions: “I don’t be­lieve that’s a fair con­clu­sion. But it’s a mat­ter, I guess, that would be in the breast of the spe­cial coun­sel.”

Deutch: “Do you be­lieve that the pres­i­dent has the le­gal au­thor­ity to fire Spe­cial Coun­sel Mueller?”

Ses­sions: “I’m not able to ex­press an opin­ion on that.”

Deutch: “Can he fire mem­bers of the spe­cial coun­sel’s team?”

Ses­sions: “I’m not able to an­swer that.”

Deutch: “Gen. Ses­sions, do you be­lieve that the pres­i­dent should have the au­thor­ity to block in­ves­ti­ga­tions into his own cam­paign?”

Ses­sions: “In­ves­ti­ga­tions have to be con­ducted by the ap­pro­pri­ate law en­force­ment of­fi­cers with­out fear or fa­vor, with­out pol­i­tics or bias.”

Deutch: “Right, and with­out fear of be­ing dis­missed by the pres­i­dent in or­der to block that in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Be­cause again, that would cer­tainly ap­pear to rep­re­sent ob­struc­tion of jus­tice. And when you fail to ac­knowl­edge that, it is es­sen­tially a green light to the pres­i­dent to go ahead and do that.”

Deutch went through the in­dict­ments of Paul Manafort, Trump’s for­mer cam­paign chair­man, and Rick Gates, an as­so­ciate of Manafort, and the guilty plea of Trump cam­paign for­eign pol­icy ad­viser Ge­orge Pa­padopou­los. He pressed Ses­sions to of­fer opin­ions about whether Trump could par­don them or for­mer Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser Michael Flynn be­fore any tri­als.

Could Trump par­don Pa­padopou­los? Ses­sions: “It would be pre­ma­ture for me to comment on that, I be­lieve…. “The pres­i­dent has the power to par­don, there’s no doubt about that.”

Could he par­don Manafort and Gates be­fore a trial and con­vic­tion? “I’m not able to comment on that, I haven’t re­searched that ques­tion. I think it’s maybe set­tled law.”

At the end of Deutch’s al­lot­ted five min­utes, when he raised his fears about the crum­bling rule of law, Ses­sions shot back. “One of the things if you re­spect the rule of law is the at­tor­ney gen­eral should not be giv­ing le­gal opin­ions from the seat of his britches. We need to be care­ful about that.”

Deutch

Ses­sions

BILL O'LEARY/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions, right, looks at a dis­play fea­tur­ing a tweet from Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump dur­ing a Tues­day House Over­sight Com­mit­tee hear­ing where he is the star wit­ness.

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