On Tuesday, even the opposition establishment media had to concede that Attorney General Jeff Sessions emerged from his Senate Intelligence Committee hearing virtually unscathed.
Much to the dismay of left-wing Democrats and their allies in the legacy press, Sessions shot down the notion that he somehow colluded with Russians during the 2016 election. He swatted away theories that he recused himself from the collusion investigation because he may have done something wrong. He displayed just the right amount of righteous indignation in defending his honor to come across as a trustworthy figure.
As former CIA counterterrorism official Philip Mudd, who has viciously criticized President Donald Trump and his administration, conceded on CNN, Sessions “wins this round.”
“He didn’t lay facts on the ground that could be disputed,” Mudd said. “I didn’t see anything today that suggested that Sessions did anything illegal. I think he wins this round.”
CNN’s John King said that “unless facts surface to the contrary,” Sessions “helped himself quite a bit and rebutted the notion that he was involved in some type of collusion.”
Wolf Blitzer said Sessions made a “strong case why he should recuse himself.” CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin said because Sessions did not answer questions about his conversations with Trump without citing executive privilege, the White House “had its cake and ate it too.” CNN’s Gloria Borger agreed.
CNN’s David Chalian said when Sessions spoke about his “meeting” with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, Sessions was “quite adamant” and “dispatched” with “that whole Mayflower meeting.” He also gave Sessions high marks on his testimony regarding his recusal from the collusion investigation.
And even on left-wing MSNBC, Ari Melber conceded that Sessions “did well” in his “legal performance” and played a bad hand very well.
Sessions: Russia Collusion Charge ‘Appalling and Detestable Lie’
In his introductory remarks, Sessions emphatically denied that he colluded with Russian officials in any way during the 2016 election, saying that charge was “an appalling and detestable lie.” He also disputed reports that he met with Kislyak at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC in 2016.
“Let me state this clearly, colleagues. I have never met with or had any conversation with any Russians or any foreign officials concerning any type of interference with any campaign or election in the United States,” Sessions said. “Further, I have no knowledge of any such conversations by anyone connected to the Trump campaign.”
— Bloomberg (@business) June 13, 2017
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) boosted Sessions’ case when, after asking Sessions if he enjoys spy novels, Cotton asked, “Have you ever… in any of these fantastical situations heard of a plot line so ridiculous that a sitting United States senator and an ambassador of a foreign government colluded at an open setting with hundreds of other people to pull off the greatest caper in the history of espionage?”
Sessions replied that it “is just like through the looking glass. I mean, what is this? I explained how in good faith I said I had not met with Russians, because they were suggesting I as a surrogate had been meeting continuously with Russians.”
“I said I didn’t meet with them and now, the next thing you know I’m accused of some reception plotting some sort of influence campaign for the American election,” he added. “It’s just beyond my capability to understand.”
Addressing reports that he may have met privately with Kislyak at the Mayflower Hotel, Sessions insisted, “I did not have any private meetings, nor do I recall any conversations, with any Russian officials at the Mayflower hotel.”
Sessions said he did not “attend any meetings separately prior to” Trump’s speech that day.
“I attended a reception with my staff, that included at least two dozen people and President Trump, though I do recall several conversations I had during that pre-speech reception, and I do not have recollection of meeting or talking to the Russian ambassador or any other Russian officials,” he said. “If any brief interaction occurred in passing with the Russian ambassador in that reception, I do not remember it. After the speech, I was interviewed by the news media. There was an area for that in a different room and then I left the hotel. Whether I attended a reception where the Russian ambassador was also present is entirely beside the point of this investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign.”
Sessions Says He Recused Himself to Follow Law
Sessions made it clear that he did not recuse himself from the FBI’s Russia investigation because he was under investigation or did something wrong. He adamantly made the case that he was simply following the law.
“Many have suggested that my recusal is because I felt I was a subject of the investigation myself, I may have done something wrong,” he said. “This is the reason I recused myself: I felt I was required to under the rules of the Department of Justice and as a leader of the Department of Justice, I should comply with the rules obviously.”
— CSPAN (@cspan) June 13, 2017
Sessions added that he recused himself “not because of any asserted wrongdoing” on his part during the campaign but “because a Department of Justice regulation, 28 CFR 45.2, required it.”
“That regulation states, in effect, that [Justice Department] employees should not participate in investigations of a campaign if they have served as a campaign adviser,” he said.
Addressing the criticism that he may have improperly recommended that Comey be fired after his recusal, Sessions said that it is “absurd, frankly, to suggest that a recusal from a single specific investigation would render the attorney general unable to manage the leadership of the various department of justice law enforcement components that conduct thousands of investigations.”
He said he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein believed that when Comey “declined the Clinton prosecution, that was really a usurpation of the authority of the federal prosecutors in the Department of Justice. It was a stunning development.” Sessions said he ultimately determined that “a fresh start at FBI was the appropriate thing to do.” He added that “there were other things that had happened that indicated to me a lack of discipline and it caused controversy on both sides of the aisle and I had come to the conclusion that a fresh start was appropriate and did not mind putting that in writing.”
Sessions Challenges Comey’s Testimony
Comey testified that he did not receive “any kind of memorandum issued from the attorney general or the Department of Justice to the FBI outlining the parameters of” Sessions’ recusal, but Sessions countered on Tuesday by saying that his chief of staff sent an email to Comey about his recusal.
“On the date of my formal recusal, my chief of staff sent an email to the heads of the relevant departments, including by name to director Comey of the FBI, to instruct them to inform their staffs of this recusal and to advise them not to brief me or involve me in any such matters. And in fact, they have not,” Sessions said.
Sessions also challenged Comey’s account in which Comey said Sessions did not respond when Comey said he was uncomfortable being alone with Trump. In fact, Sessions said Comey never told him why he was uncomfortable in the first place.
“Mr. Comey expressed concern about the proper communications protocol with the White House and with the president,” Sessions said. “I responded to his comment by agreeing that the FBI and Department of Justice needed to be careful to follow department policies regarding appropriate contacts with the White House.” Sessions added that Comey “could have complained to the deputy or to me at any time that he felt pressure,” but did not do so.
AG Sessions gives testimony about conversation where former FBI Director Comey expressed concern about communications with the White House. pic.twitter.com/4BExYbOQyU
— ABC News (@ABC) June 13, 2017
Citing ‘Longstanding Position of Department of Justice,’ Sessions Doesn’t Disclose Confidential Communications with Trump
Democrat after Democrat asked Sessions about his conversations with Trump, and Sessions never budged, citing “longstanding policy” at the Department of Justice. Establishment media reporters and Democrats sensed that this line of questioning was where Sessions–or someone else associated with Trump–could be put in legal limbo, but Sessions did not give them anything.
He declined to answer Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) questions about his potential meetings with Trump. He told Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) that, “I am not stonewalling. I am following the historic policies of the Department of Justice.”
“You don’t walk into hearing or committee meeting and reveal confidential communications with the President of the United States who is entitled to receive conventional communications in your best judgment about a host of issues and have to be accused of stonewalling them,” he said.
When Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) accused Sessions of impeding and obstructing the investigation, Sessions said, “I am telling the truth in answering your question and saying it’s a longstanding policy of the Department of Justice to make sure that the president has full opportunity to decide these issues.”
When Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) interrogated him to try to enhance her national profile, Sessions said, “I have some appreciation for as far as having spent 15 years in the Department of Justice, 12 as United States attorney, and that principle is that the Constitution provides the head of the executive branch certain privileges and… one of them is confidentiality of communications, and it is improper for agents of any of… any departments in the executive branch to waive that privilege without a clear approval of the president.”
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) June 13, 2017
Sessions Defends Honor with Righteous Indignation, Comes Across as Trustworthy
Perhaps most importantly, Sessions came across as credible while addressing his former colleagues. It is worth noting that many mainstream media reporters pointed out that even senators who disagreed with Sessions on issues like immigration did not question his trustworthiness during his tenure in the Senate.
“I was your colleague in this body for 20 years, at least some of you. And the suggestion that I participated in any collusion that I was aware of, any collusion with the Russian government to hurt this country which I have served with honor for 35 years, or to undermine the integrity of our democratic process is an appalling and detestable lie,” Sessions said.
When Wyden, echoing Comey, kept insisting that Sessions may be hiding the real—and nefarious—reason for his recusal, Sessions again showed his righteous indignation, thunderously saying that, “this is a secret innuendo being leaked out there about me, and I don’t appreciate it. I try to give my best and truthful answers to any committee I’ve appeared before, and… people are suggesting through innuendo that I have been not honest about matters, and I’ve tried to be honest.”
Earlier, Sessions had said that, “I recused myself from any investigation into the campaign for president, but I did not recuse myself from defending my honor against scurrilous and false allegations.”
At the end of the day, even CNN’s King had to give Sessions high marks on “personal integrity” and “trustworthiness.”
— AP Politics (@AP_Politics) June 13, 2017