U.S. Rep. from Florida spars with Sessions
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.”
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.