- The Washington Times - Monday, June 12, 2017

Attorney General Jeff Sessions will testify publicly Tuesday before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, where lawmakers are eager to ask him about his interactions with Russian officials and his recusal from the investigation into Moscow’s interference in the presidential election.

Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said Monday that Mr. Sessions requested the hearing be an open format because “he believes it is important for the American people to hear the truth directly from him.”

When Mr. Sessions announced his intention to appear before the committee in a letter to lawmakers over the weekend it was unclear whether the hearing would be conducted behind closed doors — prompting some Democrats to cry foul.

Tuesday’s hearing follows on the heels of former FBI Director James B. Comey’s dramatic testimony before the same committee last week, when he raised intrigue by telling lawmakers that FBI officials had expected Mr. Session would recuse himself from all Russia-related issues “for a variety of reasons.”

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

Mr. Sessions, who was one of the first major Washington officeholders to support President Trump on the campaign trail, has said his involvement in the campaign was the sole reason why he recused himself from the investigation. The attorney general has also acknowledged that he met twice with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the course of the campaign - something he did not disclose during his Senate confirmation hearing.

While some senators have questioned whether there may be an additional 2016 meeting during an event at the Mayflower Hotel that Mr. Sessions has also failed to disclose, the Justice Department has said the then-Senator “did not have any private or side conversations with any Russian officials” at the event.

Senators are also likely to have questions for Mr. Sessions about his decision to back the firing of Mr. Comey. Mr. Trump has reportedly linked his decision to fire the former FBI director with his involvement in the Russia investigation.

Last week, Mr. Comey was asked about the degree to which he believed the attorney general had abided by his own recusal from the investigation into Russia’s election interference and any links to the Trump campaign.

“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 may also seek to use the public spotlight to refute another allegation made by the former FBI director - that the attorney general was silent and said nothing when Mr. Comey asked that he intervene and not allow Mr. Trump to interact privately with him. The former FBI director testified that Mr. Trump had asked him during a private meeting to drop the probe into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Before one encounter in the Oval Office, Mr. Comey said the president ordered Mr. Sessions and others out of the room. Mr. Comey recalled Mr. Sessions “lingering” in a manner that signaled to him that the attorney general didn’t think it was appropriate to leave. But afterward when Mr. Comey told Mr. Sessions that it was inappropriate for the FBI director to be left alone with the president in that manner, he said the attorney general offered no reply but “his body language gave me the sense of ‘What am I going to do?’”

The Justice Department has since refuted that characterization, saying Mr. Sessions responded: “by saying that the FBI and Department of Justice needed to be careful about following appropriate policies regarding contacts with the White House.”

The committee hearing will take place at 2:30 p.m.

On Tuesday morning, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will testify before a subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Appropriations about the Justice Department’s budget request.

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