During his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday, former FBI Director James Comey indicated the FBI was aware of classified information that led bureau leadership to conclude Attorney General Jeff Sessions shouldn’t have been involved in Russia-related investigations even before his recusal.
At one point during the hearing, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) asked Comey, “In your statement, you said that you and the FBI leadership team decided not to discuss the president’s actions with Attorney General Sessions even though he had not recused himself. What was it about the attorney general’s own interactions with the Russians or his behavior with regard to the investigation that would have led the entire leadership of the FBI to make this decision?”
Wyden was referring to Comey’s prepared testimony, which was released on Wednesday. In it, Comey writes about a February meeting with President Trump during which Trump asked him to drop a criminal investigation into Michael Flynn — a request numerous legal experts believe may have constituted obstruction of justice.
With regard to the meeting with Trump, Comey writes that he and the FBI leadership team “concluded it made little sense to report it to Attorney General Sessions, who we expected would likely recuse himself from involvement in Russia-related investigations. (He did so two weeks later.)”
In response to Wyden’s question, Comey said, “Our judgment, as I recall, was that he was very close to and inevitably going to recuse himself for a variety of reasons. We also were aware of facts that I can’t discuss in an open setting that would make his continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic.”
Sessions violated his recusal two months later by recommending the firing of the top investigator probing the Trump campaign for possible collusion with Russia two months later. Wyden asked Comey if he thought that was appropriate.
“That’s a question I can’t answer,” Comey replied. “I think it’s a reasonable question. If the president has said I was fired because of the Russia investigation, why was the attorney general involved in that chain? I don’t know.”
Late last month, CNN broke news that Sessions failed to disclose his meetings with Russian officials on a security clearance application he filed ahead of becoming attorney general.
“Sessions, who met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at least two times last year, didn’t note those interactions on the form, which requires him to list ‘any contact’ he or his family had with a ‘foreign government’ or its ‘representatives’ over the past seven years,” CNN reported, citing Justice Department officials.
Sessions recused himself from any investigations related to the Trump campaign after Justice Department officials told the Washington Post he had misled senators during his confirmation hearing about his meetings with Kislyak. Sessions had testified that he hadn’t communicated with Russians when he in fact had on multiple occasions.
During a press gaggle that occurred while Comey was still testifying, White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that Trump still has confidence in his attorney general. That affirmation comes on the heels of reports that Trump is unhappy with Sessions because his recusal opened the door to the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel investigating Russia-related matters.