Jeff Sessions came out swinging.
Any suggestion that he was colluding with the Russian government, he told a Senate committee yesterday, was “an appalling and detestable lie.”
What was refreshing was that the attorney general’s testimony was that he didm’t read a dry, lawyerly statement, but seemed genuinely outraged that a shadow had been cast over his reputation. Nor did he hide behind a closed session.
In his two meetings with Russian officials, the ex-senator forcefully told his former colleagues, “not one thing happened that was improper in any one of those meetings.” Sessions denied media reports that there might have been a third meeting.
As for his recusal from the investigation—which President Trump did not agree with—Sessions insisted he had taken “no action whatsoever” in the probe.
And in another made-for-TV declaration, Sessions said: “I did not recuse myself from defending my honor against scurrilous and false allegations.”
While it may have lacked the drama of the Jim Comey hearing, the Sessions session had its moments, given his crucial role running the Justice Department. The Washington Post recently reported that as his relationship with Trump grew tense in recent months, Sessions offered to resign.
He defended his boss on the Comey controversy, not surprisingly, saying there was “nothing wrong” with a president having a communication with the FBI director.
Sessions told Dianne Feinstein that he wrote a letter to Trump supporting the firing of Comey because he was asked to do so. He deflected a question about whether he knew the president had already made up his mind, as Trump has confirmed, and then said he couldn’t discuss their private conversations.
There were brief fireworks when another Democrat, Ron Wyden, declared that the letter was a violation of the recusal that “didn’t pass the smell test.” But Sessions just repeated his rationale.
Sessions acknowledged to ranking committee Democrat Mark Warner that he never spoke to Comey about any problems with his management of the FBI.
In the wake of reports that the president might be contemplating firing special counsel Bob Mueller—and growing criticism of Mueller from Trump allies—Sessions said he has “confidence” in the former FBI director. But he said he “no idea” whether the president has such confidence.
Meanwhile, I can say based on my reporting that Mueller is not worried at all about his position, and does not believe the criticism of whether he has a conflict was orchestrated. Such Trump supporters as Newt Gingrich and Sean Hannity have raised questions about Mueller’s fitness for the post and whether there’s any need for a special counsel’s probe.
As a veteran senator, Sessions knows how these hearings work. Since he was playing defense, the question is whether the Democrats landed any blows or elicited any starting information. And the answer is they did not.