Ses­sions’ tes­ti­mony went nowhere

The Columbus Dispatch - - Opinion - — News­day

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions was given the op­por­tu­nity “to sep­a­rate fact from fic­tion and to set the record straight” on the swirling charges of Rus­sian med­dling in the 2016 elec­tion and the fir­ing of FBI Direc­tor James Comey for in­ves­ti­gat­ing it all.

Dis­ap­point­ingly, he didn’t do so in his tes­ti­mony Tues­day be­fore the Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee. Worse, Ses­sions re­fused to com­mit to tell sen­a­tors more in a clas­si­fied, closed­door ses­sion as Adm. Mike Rogers, the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency direc­tor, did last Mon­day evening.

Ses­sions was com­bat­ive in an­grily de­fend­ing his rep­u­ta­tion against “scur­rilous and false al­le­ga­tions” that he per­son­ally col­luded with Rus­sia in the cam­paign. Sen. Ron Wy­den of Ore­gon asked Ses­sions whether there were any undis­closed rea­sons for his re­cusal from the Rus­sia probe.

“Why don’t you tell me? There are none!” he replied in­dig­nantly.

But Ses­sions was less con­vinc­ing in many other an­swers. It was not re­as­sur­ing to re­peat­edly hear “I don’t re­call” re­sponses about what hap­pened dur­ing the cam­paign and his con­tact with Rus­sian of­fi­cials. He even ad­mit­ted at one point that he was ner­vous about some rapid-fire ques­tion­ing.

But his re­fusal to an­swer ques­tions about his con­ver­sa­tions with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, par­tic­u­larly whether they dis­cussed the rea­sons for Comey’s fir­ing in an Oval Of­fice meet­ing the day be­fore the dis­missal, was most dis­turb­ing. His in­sis­tence that there was no rea­son to re­cuse him­self from the dis­missal of Comey be­cause it was due to Comey’s im­proper han­dling of the Hil­lary Clin­ton’s email case and not to end the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion, as Trump him­self said in a tele­vi­sion in­ter­view, was just not be­liev­able.

Ses­sions’ claim of a vague, pos­si­bly un­writ­ten or even nonex­is­tent pol­icy that he couldn’t talk about his con­ver­sa­tions with the pres­i­dent like­wise didn’t hold wa­ter. The White House has not in­voked ex­ec­u­tive priv­i­lege and Ses­sions, in a novel le­gal ar­gu­ment, said he was try­ing to pro­tect Trump in case the pres­i­dent wanted to in­voke the priv­i­lege at some later point.

As Ses­sions tes­ti­fied, Trump, who trav­eled to Wis­con­sin to dis­cuss a work­force de­vel­op­ment ini­tia­tive, de­clined to an­swer a re­porter’s ques­tion about whether he had confidence in his at­tor­ney gen­eral.

The strangest dis­con­nect of the day was among Repub­li­cans and Democrats on the in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee who agree that the Rus­sians dan­ger­ously in­ter­fered with the 2016 elec­tion and will do so in fu­ture ones, and a White House that has a bizarre lack of in­ter­est in what hap­pened. Chair­man Richard Burr of North Carolina re­peat­edly noted the grav­ity of what the com­mit­tee is un­cov­er­ing and the need for Amer­i­cans to be given the facts to make their own judg­ments.

Yet, the pres­i­dent has con­tin­ued to call the hear­ings and probes a “witch hunt” and “fake news,” and the White House con­tin­ues its ag­gres­sive push­backs. The lat­est tem­pest in­cludes sto­ries that Trump is con­sid­er­ing fir­ing Robert Mueller, the spe­cial coun­sel who picked up where Comey left off. At least Ses­sions said he had “confidence” in Mueller.

But Ses­sions did lit­tle to per­suade the Amer­i­can pub­lic to have confidence in him.

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