Attorney General Jeff Sessions repeated disagreements with ex-FBI Director James Comey’s account of the two’s interaction in his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee Tuesday.
The dispute with Comey’s testimony were first made by DOJ Spokesman Ian Prior immediately after Comey testified before the same body last week. Tuesday the attorney general himself took Comey to task for saying Sessions had “shrugged” as if to say “what do you want me to do” when the now-fired FBI director asked Sessions to help him avoid impropriety in his communications with the White House.
Sessions, in his prepared remarks, characterized the same encounter as follows:
While [Comey] did not provide me with any of the substance of his conversation with the President, Mr. Comey expressed concern about the proper communications protocol with the White House and with the President. 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. Mr. Comey had served in the Department of Justice for the better part of two decades, and I was confident that Mr. Comey understood and would abide by the Department’s well-established rules governing any communications with the White House about ongoing investigations. My comments encouraged him to do just that and indeed, as I understand, he did.
Sessions also hit back at Comey’s assertion he was not instructed on how to deal with Sessions’s recusal from the investigation:
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. Importantly, I recused myself not because of any asserted wrongdoing on my part during the campaign, but because a Department of Justice regulation, 28 CFR 45.2, required it.
Later Sen. Ron Wyden (D-WA) grilled Sessions on this recusal, using Comey’s testimony to imply there was some damning unreleased information that informed Sessions’s decision to recuse, leading to a heated exchange in which Wyden accused Sessions of “stonewalling” by refusing to discuss the limited information on the Russia probe he did receive before that decision. The attorney general shook his head slightly as he replied:
Senator Wyden, I am not “stonewalling.” I am following the historic policies on the Department of Justice. You don’t walk into any hearing or committee meeting and reveal confidential communications with the President of the United States … Mr. Comey, perhaps he didn’t know, but I basically recused myself the first day I got into the office.
Wyden was unsatisfied, shooting back, “General Sessions, respectfully, you’re not answering the question.”
A smile spread across Sessions’s face as he asked chuckling, “Well, what is the question?”
“The question is, Mr. Comey said there were matters with respect to the recusal that were problematic and that he couldn’t talk about them. What are they?” Wyden snapped.
Sessions’s smile vanished, replaced with an indignant scowl. “Why don’t you tell me? There are none, Senator Wyden. There are none. I can tell you that for absolute certainty,” the attorney general barked.
Sessions continued to chastise Senator Wyden over his use of “innuendo” to imply wrongdoing and evasion on Sessions’s part. “I tried to give my best and truthful answers to any committee I’ve appeared before and people are suggesting through innuendo that I’ve not been honest about matters,” he said, in an apparent reference to Comey.
Sessions had switched his schedule around to testify before the intelligence committee specifically to follow up on Comey’s testimony before the body. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein took Sessions’s original engagement with the Senate Appropriations Committee where he too was asked about Comey’s testimony.