A generally mild-mannered Jeff Sessions expressed outrage and indignation during his testimony before the Senate intelligence committee hearing on the Russia investigation on Tuesday. Throughout the 2½ hour probe, two things became crystal clear: Republican senators want to get to the bottom of Russian interference in our election process and Democratic senators are focused on exposing confidential information in an effort to sabotage the Trump presidency.
The attorney general gave a passionate opening statement addressing the need to investigate Russian interference with our elections. Sessions’ demeanor heated up as it became obvious he felt wronged by comments made by fired FBI Director James Comey. This hearing was, no doubt, his opportunity to set the record straight on all fronts.
Committee Chairman Richard Burr, who began the questioning, was wise to highlight the four main areas of focus: Sessions’ role in the Trump campaign’s foreign policy positions, the attorney general’s contact with Russian operatives, Sessions’ reason for recusing himself from the Russian probe, and his role in the firing of former FBI Director James Comey.
The attorney general declared in his opening statement that he didn’t recuse himself “from defending my honor against scurrilous and false allegations.”
With regard to his role on the Trump campaign and any potential collusion with the Russians, Sessions vehemently proclaimed, “the suggestion that I participated in any collusion … to hurt this country is an appalling and detestable lie.”
Sessions testified that he virtually recused himself from the Russian probe on day one of being sworn in as attorney general. He made it clear his recusal was because of his campaign role and federal regulations. Sessions expressed anger over a “secret innuendo” being leaked about him that he has not been honest.
Many questions have been raised about news accounts of an alleged private meeting between then-Sen. Sessions and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during an event at the Mayflower Hotel last year. The attorney general told committee members he did not have any such private meeting nor recall any such conversation.
As Burr noted, Tuesday’s was the 10th open Senate Intelligence hearing of 2017, the fifth on the topic of Russian interference. Sen. James Lankford pointed out that virtually every unnamed source story “somehow gets a hearing.”
As for the firing of Comey, Sessions testified that he agreed with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s recommendation on the issue, that a fresh start at the FBI was probably the best thing.
Sen. Tom Cotton was correct to point out that few Democrats asked Sessions about the issue at hand: possible Russian collusion on the part of the Trump campaign. Instead, most spent the bulk of their time questioning Sessions on private conversations with President Trump and accusing him of stonewalling.
The concern is that it is well known that Russian operatives spread propaganda through the media and via channels they know are being monitored. Their “firehose of falsehood,” as social scientists Christopher Paul and Miriam Matthews have called it, is a shameless willingness to pass on partial truths and outright fictions to create confusion.
In the interest of transparency, it would be helpful if Sessions took Burr’s recommendation to revisit the issue with White House officials to determine what additional information can be shared. The more information, the better.
At the end of the day, however, the only person who can claim victory as a result of the Sessions hearing is Russian President Vladimir Putin. He wants to interfere in and obstruct the American political process, and once again, he has succeeded.