Jeff Sessions testimony before the House Judiciary Committee was about as contentious as many observers probably expected, with Sessions jousting with lawmakers who pressed him about troubling omissions in his previous testimony.
But nestled among questions about Sessions’ campaign-season interactions with Russian officials and former Trump campaign national security adviser George Papadopoulos, one lawmaker asked Sessions whether a report that the DOJ said it would approve AT&T’s proposed takeover of Time Warner only if the latter agreed to sell CNN was accurate. Sessions responded that it wasn’t.
“I don’t think I’m able to accept as accurate news reports that have come out,” he said when asked if the president or anyone at the White House had asked him about the acquisition.
The news outraged some Democrats, who accused Trump of improperly using his influence to punish the network, which he has frequently decried as “fake news”. Trump had insinuated during the campaign that he might try to block the deal if he won the presidency.
Sessions refused to say exactly what would be required for the AT&T-Time Warner deal to win approval.
When asked later by another lawmaker if the White House had attempted to interfere, or had reached out to the DOJ about the deal. Sessions said that he couldn’t answer questions involving the White House’s communications with the Justice Department.
Last night, the Washington Post reported that Sessions had asked prosecutors to look into whether certain prominent Democrats and Obama-era federal law-enforcement officials should be investigated for a range of purported misdeeds.
During the testimony, several Republican reps pushed Sessions to confirm that he would appoint the special counsel, something Sessions declined to do since he said to do so would reveal the existence of an ongoing investigation.
Instead, in a heated exchange with Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Gordon, Sessions pushed back on the immediate need for a second special counsel to investigate Clinton.
It would take “a factual basis that meets the standard of a special counsel” for the Justice Department to make such an appointment, Sessions said.
“We will use the proper standards and that’s the only thing I can tell you, Mr. Jordan,” Sessions said. “You can have your idea but sometimes we have to study what the facts are and to evaluate whether it meets the standards it requires.”
It would take “a factual basis that meets the standard of a special counsel” for the Justice Department to make such an appointment, Sessions told Gordon.
Jordan suggested that the Clinton campaign and the DNC broke the law by paying for the infamous “Trump dossier” via Clinton lawyer Marc Elias and not disclosing the true purpose of those funds to the FEC.
“And it sure looks like the FBI was paying the author of that document and it sure looks like a major political party was working with the federal government to then turn an opposition research document – the equivalent of some National Enquirer story – into an intelligence document take that to the FISA Court so they could then get a warrant to spy on President Trump’s campaign.”
“That’s what it looks like and I’m asking you, in addition to all the things we know about James Comey in 2016, doesn’t that warrant naming a second special counsel?”
Sessions at first demurred, noting that Comey is no longer the director of the FBI and praising the current director, Chris Wray. But pressed further by Jordan -“He’s not here today, Attorney General Sessions, and you are” – Sessions appeared to throw cold water on the immediate need for a special counsel.
“I would say ‘looks like’ is not enough basis to appoint a special counsel,” he said sharply. He added that it would be “wrong” to use the powers of the DOJ for political purposes.
“The Department of Justice can never be used to retaliate politically against opponents. That would be wrong.”
Asked early in the testimony about his previous public comments that he was not aware of any contacts between Trump campaign associates and the Russians – comments that have since been proven incorrect because Sessions attended a March meeting with George Papadopoulos where the latter said he could arrange a meeting between then-candidate Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Sessions said that during his confirmation hearing, Papadopoulos’s comments had slipped his memory.
Furthermore, Sessions said on Tuesday he now recalls the meeting with then-candidate Donald Trump and aides where campaign connections to Russia were discussed.
Sessions, addressing the House Judiciary Committee, said he recalled the March 2016 meeting where foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos was present, “But I have no clear recollection of the details of what he said during that meeting.”
Later, Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries pressed Sessions about an interview he did with Lou Dobbs where he criticized Hillary Clinton for telling the FBI she didn’t remember certain details during its investigation of her alleged mishandling of classified information. During the interview, Sessions told Dobbs that conveniently failing to remember could constitute perjury.
Jeffries asked if he believed the intentional failure can constitute as a criminal act?
Sessions said yes.
He later said the implication that he lied by saying he didn’t recall those comments was unfair, and harshly rebuked Jeffries, a Democrat who represents parts of Brooklyn.
Most of the most controversial subjects have been well-trod at this point, but Sessions’ testimony has not yet ended. You can watch along below: