Attorney general to face questions on
Comey firing, Russia
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[June 12, 2017]
By Doina Chiacu and Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Attorney General
Jeff Sessions will face questions about the firing of FBI Director James
Comey and undeclared meetings with Russian officials at a U.S. Senate
hearing on Tuesday, though it was unclear whether he would testify in
public or in private.
Sessions, an early and ardent supporter of U.S. President Donald Trump's
2016 election campaign, would be the highest government official to
testify before the Senate intelligence committee in its probe of
allegations that Russia may have sought to interfere in the election.
Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer and fellow Democratic Senator
Jack Reed questioned on Sunday why Sessions was involved in Trump's May
9 dismissal of Comey after he had recused himself from investigations of
whether Russia meddled in the election, possibly with help from Trump
"There's a real question of the propriety of the attorney general
participating in that in any way, shape or form," Reed said on "Fox News
Russia has denied interfering in the U.S. election. The White House has
denied any collusion with Moscow.
Sessions said in a letter on Saturday that he would appear before the
committee to address matters that Comey brought up last week in
testimony to the same panel.
He did not say if he would appear in open or closed session. Democrats
are pushing for a public hearing. Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, an
intelligence committee member, asked the panel's leaders in a letter on
Sunday to hold an open hearing.
A Justice Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity
initially said the department expected Sessions to testify in closed
session but later stressed that the decision was up to the panel's
Republican chairman, Senator Richard Burr.
A Sessions spokeswoman said she did not know if it would be public.
"That's a question for the committee," said Justice Department
spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores.
Republican Senator James Lankford, a member of the intelligence panel,
told CBS' "Face the Nation" the decision was not finalized, but "I
assume that this will be public."
Sessions is skipping a separate hearing on Tuesday on the Justice
Department's budget and sending his deputy for the session that will be
open to the public.
Senator Patrick Leahy, the Senate appropriations committee's top
Democrat and a member of the Senate judiciary committee, tartly reminded
Sessions that both oversee his department.
"You need to testify before both in public. You can't run forever,"
Media reports last week said Sessions offered to resign because of
tensions with the president over his decision to recuse himself from the
FBI's Russia probe.
Comey accused the Republican president of trying to get him to drop the
investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn and
fired him to undermine the Russia probe.
Trump himself attributed his dismissal of Comey to the Russia
Comey's testimony on Thursday also raised new questions about the
attorney general's relationship with Russian officials with ties to
President Vladimir Putin. One is whether Sessions had any undisclosed
meetings with Ambassador Sergei Kislyak or other Russians during the
campaign or after Trump took office.
[to top of second column]
Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) questions National Security Agency Director
Admiral Michael Rogers, commander of the U.S. Cyber Command, as he
testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill
Washington, D.C., U.S., May 9, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Sessions in March removed himself from involvement in any probe into
alleged Russian election meddling but maintained he did nothing
wrong by failing to disclose that he met last year with Russia's
TRUMP UNDER OATH?
Comey's dramatic testimony drew invective from his former boss on
Twitter, with Trump dismissing him as a leaker on Friday and a
coward on Sunday.
"I believe the James Comey leaks will be far more prevalent than
anyone ever thought possible. Totally illegal? Very 'cowardly!'"
Trump tweeted on Sunday.
The president denied trying to interfere with the investigation and
said he would be willing to testify under oath about his
interactions with Comey.
"We have to keep in mind that this is one person's record of what
happened. The only two people who know what happened in those
meetings are the president and James Comey," Republican National
Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel told Fox.
Schumer invited Trump to testify under oath before the Senate and he
urged Trump to produce any tapes of his conversations with Comey.
"If there arenít tapes, he should let that be known. No more game
playing," Schumer said on CBS.
Trump alluded to tapes in a May tweet. Comey welcomed any tapes
during his hearing, and congressional investigators have asked the
White House to produce them if they exist.
Trump's tendency to bring up the Russia investigation, whether by
insulting Comey or hinting at the existence of tapes, has created a
headache for Republicans who want to focus on the party's priorities
such as healthcare and tax reform.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham on Sunday accused Trump of getting
in the way of his own agenda.
"You may be the first president in history to go down because you
canít stop inappropriately talking about an investigation that if
you just were quiet, would clear you," Graham said on CBS. "You are
your own worst enemy, Mr. President. Knock it off."
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch, Doina Chiacu, Timothy Gardner, Mark
Hosenball and David Shepardson; Writing by Doina Chiacu and Arshad
Mohammed; Editing by Peter Cooney and Mary Milliken)
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