Last week Attorney General Jeff Sessions surprised everyone when he volunteered to offer his testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee on alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election. As Sessions prepares to take the stand at 2:30PM EST, here are some of the things to watch for in his testimony:
1. Did the mysterious 3rd meeting with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak happen at the Mayflower Hotel?
After his public testimony last week, Comey allegedly said during a closed-door meeting with the Senate Intelligence Committee, which promptly leaked to the media of course, that Sessions may have had an undisclosed third meeting with the Russian ambassador at the Mayflower Hotel after a Trump speech. If the third meeting took place, it would contradict Sessions’s previous assertion that he only met twice with the Russian official during the presidential campaign — once at the Republican National Convention and a second time in his Senate office in September 2016.
According to The Hill, both the Justice Department and Sessions himself have denied that a 3rd, undisclosed meeting ever occurred.
The Justice Department has denied that the two talked, saying the “the then-senator did not have any private or side conversations with any Russian officials at the Mayflower Hotel.”
“I do not recall any discussions with the Russian ambassador, or any other representative of the Russian government, regarding the political campaign on these occasions or any other occasions,” Sessions wrote in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
2. When/Why did Sessions make the decision to recuse himself?
Jeff Sessions has said that he began consulting with career department officials shortly after he was confirmed as Attorney General about stepping back from the Russian investigation, and that his decision was based solely on his status as a Trump campaign supporter.
That said, former FBI Director Comey raised some suspicions last week when he testified that he expected Sessions to recuse himself earlier than he ultimately did. Those suggestions have since resulted in wild media speculation over whether Comey was in possession of undisclosed information that would link Sessions directly to the Russian interference investigation. Per The Hill:
Comey told lawmakers that the FBI had expected Sessions to step back from the investigation even before his recusal on March 2. He said the FBI knew of facts that would make it “problematic” for Sessions to oversee the probe.
“It’s pretty clear that Comey wanted to signal in his testimony information about Sessions that was pretty concerning,” said a GOP strategist.
It’s unclear what information Comey was referring to.
Of course, as we reported last week, Sessions’ decision to recuse himself came as a surprise to Trump and has caused a rift in their relationship which has apparently grown so strained that the AG offered to resign his post (see “AG Jeff Sessions Offered Resignation Amid Trump Tensions – Report“).
3. How involved was Sessions in the decision to fire James Comey?
The exact timing of when the decision was made to fire James Comey continues to be a bit of a mystery given that Trump’s story on the topic ‘evolved’ in the days following. As such, senators will undoubtedly look for more information on what role both Sessions and deputy AG Rod Rosenstein played in that process.
4. Did Comey raise concerns with Sessions about meeting alone with Trump?
After his now infamous solo meeting with Trump in the oval office on February 14th, Comey testified last week that he subsequently went to Jeff Sessions to raise concerns about meeting with the President alone.
“It can’t happen that you get kicked out of the room and the president talks to me,” Comey says he told Sessions, adding that the attorney general “didn’t say anything.”
That said, Sessions has refuted Comey’s version that meeting saying that he was not silent, but rather told Comey “the FBI and the Department of Justice needed to be careful about following appropriate policies.”
5. Will Republican senators stand by Sessions?
To state the obvious, Sessions was not the first pick for AG of pretty much any Democrat in the Senate and he was confirmed solely because he enjoyed fairly ubiqutous Republican support. That said, the question today is whether he still enjoys that support.
6. Will John McCain be coherent today?
Last week, John McCain was bashed on social meeting after asking a completely illogical, and often incoherent, series of questions of Comey. The blowback was so severe that McCain was forced to reply or take risk that his mental competence to serve might be called into question. McCain subsequently blamed his awkward performance on staying up too late to watch the Arizona Diamondbacks game…lets hope McCain got some sleep last night.