Three key questions Sessions didn't answer

In his testimony before the Senate intelligence committee Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions declined to answer a number of key questions, citing Justice Department policy.

Alex Brandon/AP
Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Tuesday, June 13, 2017, as he testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing about his role in the firing of James Comey, his Russian contacts during the 2016 election campaign, and his decision to recuse himself from an investigation into possible ties between Moscow and associates of President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The most interesting parts of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Tuesday testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence may have been the questions he didn’t answer.

Attorney General Sessions appeared to have a two-pronged strategy for his appearance, which came in the wake of fired FBI Director James Comey’s dramatic testimony last week.

The first prong was to defend his own integrity in regards to dealings with Russians. He did this forcefully, right from the start: Any insinuation that he had colluded with Russian agents in the dissemination of leaked Democratic emails prior to the 2016 election is an “appalling and detestable lie,” Sessions said in the hearing’s opening moments.

The second prong was to avoid saying anything about his dealings with President Trump. This was difficult due to the fact that the president has not invoked executive privilege to prevent his communications with Sessions from becoming public.

Instead, Sessions declined to answer specific questions due to Justice Department policy, and on the grounds that he was preserving for Trump the ability to raise the executive privilege shield in this matter if he so desires.

Democratic senators fumed about this “stonewalling,” but on Tuesday at least, it served to protect Sessions from answering some legally and politically delicate questions.

Why was Comey fired, exactly?

Sessions testified that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein both felt that Comey’s actions in publicly discussing the Hillary Clinton email investigation were inadvisable and that the FBI needed a fresh start under a new director.

But he declined to talk about the nature of a meeting he attended with Trump just before Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein drafted a letter outlining these objections. Did Trump complain about the Russia probe at that meeting? Did he say he was already set on getting rid of the FBI director? On Tuesday, Sessions declined to say.

Did Sessions warn Trump about his discussions with Comey?

On Feb. 15, the day after Trump had a private conversation with then-FBI chief Comey in the Oval Office, Comey asked Sessions to ensure that he was never again left alone with the president – something inappropriately close. Comey also said that Sessions did not respond to this complaint.

On Tuesday, Sessions gave a different account of this conversation, insisting that he had spoken up and said that yes, it was important the FBI and the Department of Justice follow guidelines in this matter.

But Comey wanted Sessions to serve as an intermediary with the president, telling him it was wrong to be buddy-buddy with someone directing an investigation of the Trump campaign and Russia. Did Sessions ever do this? Did he tell the president he was on legally problematic ground here, and did the president nevertheless persist?

Has Trump talked about pardoning anybody?

In an intriguing exchange, Sessions avoided answering a question about whether the president has mused about pardoning the former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, or anyone else caught up in the probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Is that on Trump’s agenda already? Preemptive pardoning is within the president’s power. But in this case, it might be a politically explosive action.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Three key questions Sessions didn't answer
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today