Sessions defends Comey firing, dodges questions on Trump
Attorney General Jeff Sessions strongly defended President Donald Trump’s firing of James Comey, but at a Senate hearing Wednesday repeatedly declined to discuss private conversations with the president about the dismissal, frustrating Democratic lawmakers who wanted to link the firing of the FBI director to a broader inquiry into Russian election meddling.
The repeated, often-testy questioning about the Russia investigation, coming even as Sessions spearheads sweeping changes to the Justice Department in the areas of LGBT rights, criminal justice and immigration, illustrates the extent to which the probe continues to shadow Sessions even though he recused himself months ago.
Sessions advised the Senate Judiciary Committee at the outset of his first oversight hearing as attorney general that he would not answer any questions about conversations with the president that he considered confidential.
He largely adhered to that principle during the five-hour hearing, refusing to say what Trump told him about his reasons for wanting to fire Comey, whether Trump confided in him his concern about “lifting the cloud” of the Russia investigation and whether he had asked him to drop a criminal case against Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona.
Sessions deflected the questions by maintaining that presidents are entitled to have private discussions with Cabinet secretaries, saying at one point, “I do not confirm or deny the existence of any communication between the president that I consider to be confidential.”
Still, Sessions’ defense of the Comey firing – and his insistence that it stemmed from the handling of the Hillary Clinton email case – was consistent with the initial explanation by the White House. It was, he said, “the first time I’m aware of” in which an FBI director had performed the traditional role of Justice Department prosecutors by announcing on his own the conclusion of a federal investigation – that no charges would be brought against Clinton.
He said he was further galled when Comey, shortly before his firing, insisted to Congress that he would have taken the same actions again.