Jeff Sessions testifies: Refuses to say whether he spoke to Trump about Comey’s handling of Russia investigation – Washington Post

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A March 2 email by Sessions’s chief of staff said that he would not be involved in “any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for the president of the United States.” Yet two months later, he played a direct role in Trump’s decision to fire Comey, citing Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation during the 2016 race.

“The recusal involved one case in the Department of Justice and the FBI,’’ said Sessions, referring to the FBI’s Russia investigation and offering a different description of the scope of his recusal. “I’m the attorney general of the United States. It’s my responsibility to ensure that the department is run properly. I do not believe it is a sound position that if you recuse from a single case, you can’t make a decision about the leadership of that agency.”

Sessions previously told senators explicitly that he would recuse himself from matters related to Clinton — though Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said Tuesday that the case was already closed and therefore not part of the recusal.

When asked about his conversation with Comey on the day the president spoke to Comey alone, Sessions described the exchange differently than the former FBI chief did in his testimony last week.

Comey testified that after what he called a “disturbing” private talk with Trump, he went to Sessions. Without telling the attorney general that Trump had suggested the FBI drop its probe of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, Comey told Sessions, “It can’t happen that you get kicked out of the room and the president talks to me.’’ The president has denied asking Comey to drop the Flynn matter.

Comey said that the attorney general didn’t say anything but that Sessions’s body language gave him the sense that he was powerless to do anything.

Sessions said he did respond, telling Comey “that the FBI and the Department of Justice needed to be careful to follow department policies regarding appropriate contact with the White House.’’

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) suggested that the attorney general was ducking critical questions in his testimony.

“I believe the American people have had it with stonewalling. Americans don’t want to hear that answers to relevant questions are privileged or off limits,” Wyden said. “We are talking about an attack on our democratic institutions, and stonewalling of any kind is unacceptable.”

Sessions shot back: “I am not stonewalling. I am following the historic policies of the Department of Justice.”

Wyden noted that Comey had said it was “problematic” for Sessions to oversee the Russia probe, for reasons he did not explain in a public setting.

Sessions became angry again when Wyden pressed him to explain what facts might be “problematic” about his involvement in the probe.

“Why don’t you tell me? There are none, Senator Wyden. There are none,” Sessions said. “This is a secret innuendo being leaked out there about me, and I don’t appreciate it.”

Earlier Tuesday, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein appeared before lawmakers on the Senate Appropriations Committee. He responded to questions regarding comments Monday from Christopher Ruddy, the chief executive of Newsmax Media and a friend of Trump, that the president might fire special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Mueller was recently appointed to lead the investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to influence the 2016 election.

Rosenstein said that if the president ordered him to fire Mueller, he would comply only if the request was “lawful and appropriate.”

Rosenstein, who has been on the job for six weeks, said only he could fire Mueller and only if he found good cause to do so. He described Mueller as operating independently from the Justice Department in his investigation.

Julie Tate and Karoun Demirjian contributed to this report.

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