Information about Jeff Session’s contacts with the Russians and his role in the decision to fire former FBI director James Comey has come out in dribs and drabs, but one thing is now crystal clear: There’s a lot more to that story and it will almost certainly come out before this is all over.
Just after Comey delivered his public testimony Thursday, he briefed senators privately, revealing a possible third undisclosed meeting between Sessions and Russian Ambassador Surgey Kislyak.
This is likely the same meeting that surfaced in a CNN report last week saying that congressional investigators were looking into a possible Sessions-Kislyak meeting during Donald Trump’s April 27, 2016, foreign policy speech at the Mayflower. Sen. Al Franken also said last week that he had “reason to believe” Sessions and Kislyak may have had a more extensive interaction at the event than was previously thought to be the case.
Perhaps, Comey’s intriguing public testimony about Sessions’ role in the Russia imbroglio is exactly what prompted senators at Thursday’s closed-door briefing to tease out the details. In writing, Comey alluded to “expecting” that Sessions would recuse himself from Russia-related investigations “two weeks” before Sessions actually did so. That means Comey and his FBI colleagues had reason to believe Sessions was somehow tainted when it came to the Russia probe.
Comey only thickened the plot at the hearing Thursday when he told lawmakers:
“We also were aware of facts that I can’t discuss in an opening setting that would make his continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic.”
But Sessions’ behavior in relation to interactions between Comey and Trump was also strange, according to Comey’s descriptions. When Trump asked Comey to stay behind following an Oval Office meeting in mid-February involving Sessions and several aides, Comey said that Sessions (and Jared Kushner!) “lingered” by his chair until Trump again signaled he wanted to speak with Comey alone. The suggestion is that Sessions may have had a sense that something not so kosher was about to happen.
Even though Comey testified that he didn’t ultimately tell Sessions about Trump’s request that he lay off the Flynn investigation, he did ask Sessions to “prevent any future direct communication” between him and Trump, noting that his one-on-one with Trump had been “inappropriate.” According to Comey, Sessions said nothing in response:
He did not reply.
That’s strange. The natural inclination in that situation would be to ask, “What happened?” Sessions apparently didn’t. He may have had his reasons for not doing so, but that’s the point: Why wouldn’t you ask? It’s not logical unless you don’t want to know the answer for some reason.
Of course, Comey’s description of Sessions isn’t the first time the attorney general’s behavior has seemed odd. The timeline of Sessions’ confessions on his first two interactions with Kislyak doesn’t add up either: On Jan. 10, Sessions first testified that he “did not have communications with the Russians;” on Feb. 13, Michael Flynn resigned over his contact with the Russian ambassador; on Feb. 14, Comey’s Oval Office meeting with Trump took place. Yet, even with all this Russia scandal swirling around the White House, Sessions didn’t update the record on his false testimony to a Senate panel concerning his own interactions with Kislyak until March 6, almost two months after giving sworn testimony otherwise. That’s a mystery that grows more glaring with each new revelation.
On top of all that, Comey isn’t the first public official to decline to answer questions about Sessions’ actions. When Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein met behind closed doors with senators several weeks ago, he also dodged Democrats’ questioning about Sessions’ role in the decision to fire Comey.
“In each instance I think [Rosenstein] made it clear to us, he felt this had the danger of going too far and getting into information that Bob Mueller might need,” [Sen. Dick] Durbin said on MSNBC.
Both Rosenstein and Comey knew something about Sessions they didn’t feel at liberty to say. Their silence speaks volumes, even if we don’t yet have all the details.