Ses­sions slams Rus­sia ‘in­nu­endo’

De­fends rea­son for fir­ing Comey: Lost con­fi­dence in Clin­ton probe

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY AN­DREA NO­BLE

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions ve­he­mently de­nied sug­ges­tions Tues­day that he helped Rus­sia sub­vert the Novem­ber pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, call­ing that an “ap­palling and de­testable lie,” and de­fended his rec­om­men­da­tion that the FBI di­rec­tor be fired.

Mr. Ses­sions also flatly de­nied a third un­re­ported meet­ing be­tween him­self and the Rus­sian am­bas­sador, said he played no role in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian med­dling in the elec­tion and fol­lowed all pro­ce­dures in re­cus­ing him­self — though he de­clined to de­scribe his con­ver­sa­tions with Pres­i­dent Trump to sen­a­tors on the Se­nate Se­lect Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence.

The at­tor­ney gen­eral did con­firm for­mer FBI di­rec­tor James B. Comey’s ac­count that he was un­com­fort­able with one-on-one meet­ings with Mr. Trump, but Mr. Ses­sions said it was up to the FBI di­rec­tor, not the new pres­i­dent, to ob­ject to the in­ter­ac­tions.

The hear­ing gave Mr. Ses­sions his first pub­lic chance to an­swer a se­ries of charges that Democrats and lib­eral ac­tivists had lobbed at him, in­clud­ing help­ing oust Mr. Comey and hold­ing se­cret meet­ings to co­or­di­nate elec­tion ef­forts with Rus­sia.

“This is a se­cret in­nu­endo be­ing

leaked out there about me, and I don’t ap­pre­ci­ate it, and I’ve tried to give my best and truth­ful an­swers to any com­mit­tee I’ve ap­peared be­fore,” Mr. Ses­sions said. “Peo­ple are sug­gest­ing through in­nu­endo that I have been not hon­est about mat­ters, and I’ve tried to be hon­est.”

Mr. Ses­sions said he never met with any Rus­sian or for­eign of­fi­cials “con­cern­ing any type of in­ter­fer­ence with any cam­paign or elec­tion” and that he did not have a third undis­closed meet­ing with the Rus­sian am­bas­sador to the U.S.

“Fur­ther, I have no knowl­edge of any such con­ver­sa­tions by any­one con­nected to the Trump cam­paign,” Mr. Ses­sions said.

The at­tor­ney gen­eral said his in­volve­ment in the Trump cam­paign was the sole rea­son why he re­cused him­self from the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion, which is now be­ing over­seen by spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller.

Al­though he didn’t of­fi­cially re­cuse him­self un­til March, Mr. Ses­sions said he steered clear of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion since he was sworn into of­fice in Fe­bru­ary.

Mr. Comey raised in­trigue last week when he told the same Se­nate com­mit­tee that FBI of­fi­cials had ex­pected Mr. Ses­sions to re­cuse him­self from all Rus­sia-re­lated is­sues “for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons” and that his con­tin­ued in­volve­ment would have been prob­lem­atic.

That sparked Mr. Ses­sions’ com­plaint about be­ing tar­geted by in­nu­endo.

“Per­haps [Mr. Comey] didn’t know, but I ba­si­cally re­cused my­self the first day I got into of­fice,” Mr. Ses­sions said.

He added that he had taken no ac­tion on the in­ves­ti­ga­tion since he re­cused him­self. “I never ac­cessed files. I never learned the names of in­ves­ti­ga­tors,” he said.

He called it ab­surd that his own re­cusal would bar him from mak­ing the rec­om­men­da­tion that Mr. Comey be fired, not­ing re­cusal in the case should not pre­clude him from man­ag­ing agen­cies that re­port to the Jus­tice De­part­ment.

With Rus­sia ques­tions fail­ing to pro­duce much in­for­ma­tion, Democrats shifted their fo­cus to Mr. Ses­sions’ in­volve­ment in the ouster last month of Mr. Comey.

Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­eral Rod Rosen­stein wrote a memo, which the at­tor­ney gen­eral signed off on, cit­ing Mr. Comey’s han­dling of the Hil­lary Clin­ton pri­vate email server in­ves­ti­ga­tion as the rea­son why Jus­tice De­part­ment of­fi­cials had lost con­fi­dence in his abil­ity to lead the FBI.

Mr. Trump ini­tially pointed to the memo as his rea­son for fir­ing Mr. Comey, though he later said he was go­ing to dis­miss the di­rec­tor any­way with the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion fore­most on his mind.

Mr. Ses­sions said his ad­vice to Mr. Trump didn’t vi­o­late his pledge to re­cuse him­self from the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion. He said he and Mr. Rosen­stein had spo­ken about hav­ing con­cerns about Mr. Comey’s ac­tions be­fore ei­ther took of­fice.

“The let­ter I signed rep­re­sented my views that had been for­mu­lated for some time,” Mr. Ses­sions said.

Sen. Ron Wy­den, Ore­gon Demo­crat, re­sponded by say­ing, “That an­swer doesn’t pass the smell test.”

The at­tor­ney gen­eral’s re­fusal to an­swer some ques­tions about his com­mu­ni­ca­tions with the pres­i­dent frus­trated some sen­a­tors. Sen. Martin Hein­rich, New Mex­ico Demo­crat, at one point said, “You are ob­struct­ing that con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tion by not an­swer­ing those ques­tions.”

Mr. Ses­sions said the pres­i­dent had not in­voked ex­ec­u­tive priv­i­lege that would pre­vent him from talk­ing about such mat­ters but in­di­cated that it ap­peared to be con­tem­plated.

Mr. Ses­sions said long-stand­ing Jus­tice De­part­ment poli­cies also pre­cluded him from talk­ing about his con­ver­sa­tions with Mr. Trump.

A Jus­tice De­part­ment of­fi­cial pointed to a memo from Pres­i­dent Rea­gan and a 1982 memo from the Jus­tice De­part­ment’s of­fice of le­gal coun­sel as pro­vid­ing the ba­sis for Mr. Ses­sions’ de­ci­sion not to ad­dress cer­tain ques­tions.

“De­clin­ing to an­swer ques­tions at a con­gres­sional hear­ing about con­fi­den­tial con­ver­sa­tions with the pres­i­dent is long-stand­ing ex­ec­u­tive-branch-wide prac­tice,” the of­fi­cial said.

The 21-page memo, writ­ten by Theodore Ol­son, for­mer as­sis­tant at­tor­ney gen­eral for the of­fice of le­gal coun­sel, notes that the at­tor­ney gen­eral “serves as both a Cab­i­net ad­viser and the prin­ci­pal le­gal ad­viser to the pres­i­dent” and out­lines the de­gree to which com­mu­ni­ca­tions be­tween the pres­i­dent and at­tor­ney gen­eral can be shielded from com­pul­sory dis­clo­sure.

Repub­li­cans said months of in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian med­dling have found no ev­i­dence of col­lu­sion — some­thing Democrats are now ac­knowl­edg­ing.

“Maybe that is be­cause Jim Comey said last week, as he said to Don­ald Trump, told him three times, he as­sured him he was not un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Maybe it’s be­cause mul­ti­ple Democrats on this com­mit­tee have stated that they have seen no ev­i­dence thus far af­ter six months of our in­ves­ti­ga­tion and 10 months, or 11 months of an FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion of any such col­lu­sion,” said Sen. Tom Cot­ton, Arkansas Re­pub­li­can.

He said Democrats were go­ing down “lots of other rab­bit trails.”

Democrats, though, said Mr. Ses­sions’ re­fusals raised more ques­tions than he an­swered.

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Whip Richard J. Durbin, an Illi­nois Demo­crat who served for decades with Mr. Ses­sions in the Se­nate, said it was time for the at­tor­ney gen­eral to step down.

“In his first few weeks as the na­tion’s high­est-rank­ing le­gal au­thor­ity, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Ses­sions has re­cused him­self from the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in our elec­tion, rec­om­mended the dis­missal of the di­rec­tor of the FBI, re­port­edly of­fered his res­ig­na­tion to the pres­i­dent and re­fused to an­swer ques­tions from the Se­nate in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee. It is hard to see how he can con­tinue to serve,” Mr. Durbin said in a state­ment.

DENIALS: At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions told the Se­nate Se­lect Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence on Tues­day that in­nu­endo about Rus­sian con­tacts and his de­ci­sion to re­cuse from an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into pos­si­ble Trump cam­paign ties were all lies.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions said it was James B. Comey’s han­dling of the Hil­lary Clin­ton email server probe as the rea­son for his fir­ing as FBI di­rec­tor.

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