- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 11, 2017

Democrats indicated Sunday that the decision by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to testify to Congress on Russian involvement in the November presidential election isn’t good enough — they want Tuesday’s testimony to be public.

Mr. Sessions announced his intention to go before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to address questions raised last week during former FBI Director James B. Comey’s testimony about the attorney general’s recusal from the Russia probe.

The attorney general had been scheduled to testify Tuesday about the Justice Department’s budget before the House and Senate appropriations committees but decided instead to go before the intelligence committee.

“In light of reports regarding Mr. Comey’s recent testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, it is important that I have an opportunity to address these matters in the appropriate forum,” Mr. Sessions wrote to lawmakers.

It was unclear whether he intended his intelligence committee testimony to be public or behind closed doors, but Democrats made their preference clear Sunday and on the weekend political talk shows.

On Sunday, Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat and an intelligence committee member, sent a letter to the committee’s leadership requesting that they hold an open hearing.

“These matters, which are directly related to threats to our democratic institutions, are of the utmost public interest. I believe we owe the American people transparency,” Mr. Wyden said in his letter to Sens. Richard Burr, North Carolina Republican and committee chairman, and Sen. Mark R. Warner of Virginia, the ranking Democrat.

Sen. James Lankford, Oklahoma Republican and an intelligence committee member, said he assumes the hearing will be public.

“We want to be able to get his side of it — get all the facts out there,” Mr. Lankford said on “Face the Nation” on CBS.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, a member of the intelligence panel, said Sunday that she doesn’t “know whether it is going to be public.”

Regardless, she said she also wants to see the attorney general appear before the Judiciary Committee, where she is the ranking Democrat.

“The judiciary staff are all lawyers … and so, there is an opportunity to look at the law with respect to obstruction of justice, to hold a hearing and also to have those relevant people to come before the Judiciary Committee,” she said in an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Mr. Comey testified Thursday that President Trump asked him to drop the probe into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, but he said he declined to tell the attorney general about the uncomfortable one-on-one interactions because FBI officials expected Mr. Sessions to be recused from all Russia-related issues “for a variety of reasons.”

Mr. Comey told senators that there were reasons he couldn’t discuss in a nonclassified setting what officials believed made Mr. Sessions’ “continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic.”

Mr. Sessions, who was one of the first major Washington officeholders to support Mr. Trump on the campaign trail, recused himself from all matters related to the presidential election — including the Justice Department’s role in probing Moscow’s role in meddling in the election and any ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.

During his confirmation hearing, Mr. Sessions said he did not meet with Russian officials during the campaign but later acknowledged meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak twice last year.

Former FBI Director Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel to head the probe.

Mr. Comey was asked Thursday about the degree to which he thought Mr. Sessions had adhered to his recusal, including whether he was following that decision in relation to his role in recommending the former FBI director’s firing.

“That’s a question I can’t answer. I think that’s a reasonable question,” Mr. Comey said. “If I was fired because of the Russia investigation, why was the attorney general involved in that chain? I don’t know.”

Mr. Sessions was also portrayed in an unflattering light when Mr. Comey said the attorney general had no response and remained silent when the FBI chief requested that the attorney general protect him from one-on-one meetings with Mr. Trump.

The Justice Department rebutted that characterization last week, with a spokesman issuing a statement saying the attorney general responded to Mr. Comey’s appeal “by saying that the FBI and Department of Justice needed to be careful about following appropriate policies regarding contacts with the White House.”

Mr. Sessions won’t be the only high-profile figure to meet with the Senate intelligence committee as it conducts an investigation into the Russia case: Mr. Trump’s special adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Mr. Mueller are expected to meet soon with the committee.

According to committee staff, Mr. Mueller, who was appointed to his post last month, will meet with Mr. Burr and Mr. Warner, each his respective party’s ranking member. No specific date has been set.

According to NBC News, Mr. Kushner, who is married to Ivanka Trump, will provide the committee with documents it has requested, in addition to facing questions from senators. No date has been confirmed for that either.

Republicans used Sunday’s talk shows to continue their criticism of Mr. Comey’s conduct.

Sen. Susan M. Collins, Maine Republican, said that while it was “clearly wrong” for the president to ask that investigation into Mr. Flynn be stopped, Mr. Comey should have told the president his request was inappropriate.

“There are a lot of people in government that should have tried to set him straight,” the Republican senator said of the president.

Mr. Comey testified last week that he leaked the memos through a friend to The New York Times after Mr. Trump hinted he may have tapes of their private conversation.

Mr. Lankford called Mr. Comey’s leak of his memos detailing his private meeting with the president “inappropriate,” though he acknowledged that was “not damaging to national security.”

“I’m still wondering why he prospectively wanted to get out his side of his opinion,” the senator from Oklahoma said in his appearance on CBS.

Sen. Mike Lee, Utah Republican, agreed, though he was unsure whether Mr. Comey’s leak of the memos was a crime.

“I’m not wild about the fact that he had these memos leaked — leaked specifically with the intent of prompting the appointment of a special counsel,” Mr. Lee said. “That doesn’t seem to me to be the kind of thing we want out of an FBI director, an FBI director whose example will affect everyone in a bureau where leaking seems to be a problem.”

Andrea Noble contributed to this report.


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