Two hours into Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, it was Sen. Kamala Harris’ (D-CA) turn to play interrogator.
While pressing Sessions on his campaign-era interactions with Russian officials, Harris attempted to hurry the exchange along to preserve her limited questioning time. Sessions protested her approach. “I’m not able to be rushed this fast. It makes me nervous,” the most senior public law enforcement officer in America said.
Moments later, Harris returned to a theme other Dems had also raised: Sessions’ refusal to answer multiple questions about what he and President Donald Trump did or did not talk about regarding the firing of former FBI director James Comey.
If Sessions was seeking to invoke the legal concept of “executive privilege” — a sort of Fifth Amendment for presidents — he would have opened some dubious legal trapdoors, as ThinkProgress’ Yvette Cabrera previously reported. The technicalities of his repeated evasions were therefore of substantive importance to the future of Congress’ investigations of the Comey firing.
But with Sessions already proclaiming himself flustered by Harris — the only black woman in the Senate — Republican members of the panel quickly jumped. When Harris asked Sessions to say whether or not he asked to see a written policy that would allow him to evade the committee’s questions without formally invoking executive privilege, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) jumped in to ask Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) to reprimand Harris for the interruptions.
It was the second time in a week that Harris has had her efforts to get straight answers from senior Department of Justice officials derailed by the men around her on the committee.
“Sir, I’m not asking about the principle,” Harris said. “You rely on the policy, did you not ask your staff to show you the policy that would be the basis for refusing to answer the majority of the questions that have been asked of you?”
Before Sessions could answer, McCain interceded. “Mr. Chairman the witness should be allowed to answer the question,” McCain said from off-camera.
Burr instructed Harris to back off.
A reprieve thus granted, Sessions offered word salad — not on Harris’ question about a written policy, but on the abstractions she was trying to cut through.
“We talked about the real principle that’s at stake. It’s one that I have some appreciation for as having spent 15 years in the Department of Justice, 12 as United States Attorney, and that principle is that the Constitution provides the head of the Executive Branch certain privileges, and that one of them is confidentiality of communications, and that it is improper for agents of any department of the executive branch to waive the privilege without a clear approval of the president.”
By the end of that holding-forth, both Harris and Sessions were smirking at each other, and the California senator tried one more time.
“I have asked Mr. Sessions for a yes or no: Did you ask your staff to see the policy?”
“The answer is, yes I consulted,” Sessions said.
“The Senator’s time has expired,” Burr said.
The stonewalling left Harris to retreat to Twitter.
“It was a simple question,” she wrote. “Can Sessions point to the policy, in writing, that allows him to not answer a whole host of our questions today.”