Yesterday Attorney General Jeff Sessions defended his honor before the Senate Intelligence Committee, rejecting the "appalling and detestable lie" that "I participated in any collusion that I was aware of, any collusion with the Russian government to hurt this country, which I have served with honor for 35 years, or to undermine the integrity of our democratic process."
But Sessions' testimony highlighted his decidedly dishonorable collusion with President Trump in the clumsy attempt to cover up the real reasons for firing FBI Director James Comey last month.
Sessions said it was "absurd" to suggest that he should have kept his distance from that decision given its apparent connection to the FBI's investigation of Russian meddling in the presidential election. Sessions recused himself from that investigation in March after he was criticized for failing to disclose his contacts with Russian officials to the senators who confirmed him as attorney general.
In his Senate testimony last week, Comey questioned Sessions' involvement in his dismissal, citing the recusal. "If, as the president said, I was fired because of the Russia investigation, why was the attorney general involved in that chain?" he said. "I don't know."
Sessions testified that he bowed out of the Russia investigation, which includes possible ties between Russian operatives and the president's associates, because of the role he had played in Trump's campaign. "I recused myself not because of any asserted wrongdoing," he said, "but because a Department of Justice regulation…required it. That regulation states in effect that department employees should not participate in investigations of a campaign if they served as a campaign adviser."
That recusal, Sessions said, had nothing to do with decisions about who should head the FBI. "It is absurd, frankly, to suggest that a recusal from a single specific investigation would render the attorney general unable to manage the leadership of the various Department of Justice law enforcement components that conduct thousands of investigations," he said.
Sessions played a key role in the official narrative of Comey's dismissal by endorsing the conclusions of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who wrote a memo criticizing the way Comey had handled the FBI's investigation of Hillary Clinton's email practices as secretary of state.
Rosenstein said Comey had treated Clinton unfairly and broken with longstanding policy by announcing the results of the investigation at a press conference and by publicly reopening the investigation 11 days before the election. "Based on my evaluation, and for the reasons expressed by the Deputy Attorney General in the attached memorandum," Sessions said in a May 9 letter to Trump, "I have concluded that a fresh start is needed at the leadership of the FBI."
Sessions' transparently phony rationale for firing Comey, which contradicted his own public defenses of the FBI director's controversial decisions regarding the Clinton investigation, was merely window dressing for a decision Trump had already made, as the president himself admitted two days later in an interview with NBC News.
In the same interview, Trump confirmed that the Russia investigation, which he had called a "taxpayer-funded charade" on Twitter the day before sacking Comey, was on his mind at the time. "When I decided to just do it," he said, "I said to myself…this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won."
In an exchange with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) yesterday, Sessions declined to address the real reasons for firing Comey:
Feinstein: Mr. Rosenstein, in a statement to the House of Representatives, essentially told them he learned on May 8th President Trump intended to remove Director Comey. When you wrote your letter on May 9, did you know that the president had already decided to fire Director Comey?
Sessions: Senator Feinstein, I would say I believe it has been made public that the president asked us our opinion, and it was given, and he asked us to put that in writing. I don't know how much more he said than that, but he talked about it and I would let his words speak for themselves….
Feinstein: I'm puzzled about the recommendation because the decision had been made. What was the need for you to write a recommendation?
Sessions: Well, we were asked our opinion, and when we expressed it, which was consistent with the letter we wrote, I felt comfortable, and I guess the deputy attorney general did too, in providing that information in writing.
Feinstein: Do you concur with the president he was going to fire Comey regardless of [the] recommendation because the problem was the Russian investigation?
Sessions: Senator Feinstein, I will have to let his words speak for himself. I'm not sure what was in his mind explicitly when we talked to him.
Sessions refused to discuss any conversations he may have had with Trump regarding the president's motive for firing Comey, saying those exchanges are "confidential" and might be covered by a future assertion of executive privilege. Trump's motive is obviously relevant to the charge that he was trying to obstruct justice by impeding the FBI probe.
Sessions' unapologetic participation in concealing Trump's motive is just as obviously relevant to the attorney general's claim that he is a man of honesty and integrity.