Accusations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia faded, and Democrats shifted their focus Tuesday to trying to build a case for obstruction of justice against President Trump.
With Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Capitol Hill for public testimony, Democrats peppered him with questions over what led to the firing of FBI Director James B. Comey and whether the president said he was trying to stymy the Russia probe.
When Mr. Sessions declined to detail his conversations with Mr. Trump, citing “longstanding” Justice Department policy, Democrats said it fed into their suspicion that the president was trying to cover up wrongdoing.
“I think your silence, like the silence of Director Coats, like the silence of Admiral Rogers, speaks volumes,” said Sen. Martin Heinrich, New Mexico Democrat, referring to testimony earlier this month by Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency chief Mike Rogers, who also declined to describe their specific conversations with Mr. Trump.
Mr. Sessions flatly denied he was part of any collusion with Russia, and said in his involvement with the campaign — or his time since as attorney general — he’s seen no evidence of such collusion.
The collusion speculation was also dealt a major blow last week when Mr. Comey, in his own testimony to the Senate intelligence committee, said there was no evidence. Mr. Comey also flatly said that Mr. Trump was not under investigation.
“That’s where we started six months ago. We’ve now heard from six of the eight Democrats on this committee, and to my knowledge, I don’t think a single one of them asked that question,” said Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican.
He said Democrats are now scurrying down “other rabbit trails.”
The most prominent new trail is the Comey firing. While the Justice Department’s top officials recommended Mr. Comey be ousted because of his mishandling of investigations, Mr. Trump said the firing was because of Russia.
“Do you concur with the president that he was going to fire Comey regardless of recommendation, because the problem was the Russian investigation?” Sen. Dianne Feinstein demanded of Mr. Sessions.
The attorney general declined to answer, saying he couldn’t talk about his conversations with the president.
For his part, Mr. Cotton said the only evidence of criminal activity that’s been uncovered so far is illegal leaking.
He ticked off a series of anti-Trump stories that have emerged based on improper leaks, including the unmasking and sharing of conversations of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn; testy conversations between Mr. Trump and Australian and Mexican leaders; Mr. Trump’s Oval Office conversation with the Russian foreign minister; and a leak out of last week’s closed-door session with Mr. Comey.
That leak came “within 20 minutes of this committee meeting in a classified setting with Jim Comey,” Mr. Cotton said.
“Are these leaks serious threats to our national security?” Mr. Cotton demanded.
Mr. Sessions said his department is pursuing investigations into leaks, and pointed to the arrest last week of a government contractor in Georgia who has been charged with leaks.
The attorney general hinted that members of Congress or their employees could also be on the hook.
“We cannot have persons in our intelligence agencies, our investigative agencies or in Congress leaking sensitive matters — and staff,” he said. “This, I’m afraid, is already resulting in investigations, and I fear that some people may find that they wish they hadn’t leaked.”