The Questions Jeff Sessions Refused To Answer Only Raised More Doubts
The Senate Intelligence Committee questioned Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday afternoon in regards to any possible ties to Russia. However, Sessions blatantly refused to answer key questions regarding his actions during the 2016 campaign and since taking oath in February.
Sessions, an early supporter of the president, helped shape much of the Trump campaign's national security strategy. While he claimed to have no conversations with Russian ambassadors in his January testimony, it was later revealed in March that he had communicated with the Russians on at least two occasions. During his testimony, however, Sessions denied any wrongdoing, saying "I have never met with or had any conversation with any Russian or any foreign officials concerning any interference in any campaign or any election."
Additionally, and despite a public recant from the Trump campaign-Russia investigation in March, he wrote a memorandum in May to the president explicitly relaying his concerns and encouraging the president to fire the former FBI director.
On Thursday, the Senate Intelligence Committee probed Sessions on potentially dubious activity. At every twist and turn, and despite vowing complete honesty under oath, Sessions refused to answer critical questions regarding the investigation, citing he couldn't disclose private conversations in the White House because he was obligated to protect the president.
"Consistent with longstanding Department of Justice practice, I cannot and will not violate my duty to protect confidential communications with the president," Sessions said when questioned on his direct conversations with Trump. He refused to say if he had discussed information pertaining to Russian interference in the election with Trump. He also avoided comment on Comey's claim that Trump had cleared the Oval Office in February for a private conversation. Later, after pressed by Senator Marco Rubio of Florida if he remembered seeing Comey stay behind, he admitted that he had.
When Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico asked Sessions about the DOJ policies that he cited as grounds for not answering questions, he avoided the inquiry, stating, "It's my judgment it would be inappropriate for me to reveal private conversations with the president when he has not had a full opportunity to review the questions."
Later, when Senator Kamala Harris of California asked if the policy could be found in writing and if he had consulted with his committee to figure out the policy's specifics, Sessions dodged the question, affirming he, "talked about the real principle that is at stake, having spent 50 years in the Department of Justice."
"The principle is the Constitution provides the head of the executive branch certain privileges, and one of them is confidentiality of communications," he added.
Yet, Sessions has no legal basis for that refusal. When Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia asked if Trump had used his executive privilege – referring to a constitutional doctrine that allows the president to shield his confidential communications — regarding Session's testimony, he said the president had not. Hence, Sessions had no reason not to fully answer every question.
"Does that mean you are claiming executive privilege?" posed Vice Chairman Mark Warner of Virginia. "I am not claiming executive privilege," Sessions responded.
Later, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon described Session's refusal to answer key questions as "stonewalling."
"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," he said. "We are talking about an attack on our democratic institutions, and stonewalling of any kind is unacceptable."
"I am not stonewalling," Sessions barked back. "I am following the historic policies of the Department of Justice."
In sum, the testimony revealed little: Sessions rejected any suggestions of Russian collusion, saying he couldn't recall any specific instances, and repeatedly described any insight into conversations with Trump as inappropriate.
A classic case of stonewalling? We'll have to wait and see.