Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Sessions to Testify Today

The US attorney general, Jeff Sessions, is likely to step into a legal minefield on Tuesday when he answers questions under oath before the Senate intelligence committee about his contacts with Russian officials and his role in the firing of the FBI director, James Comey.

This one is going to be harder to watch than Comey's because Sessions is such a weasel.
What Sessions tells the committee could in turn affect the legal jeopardy of Donald Trump, who has also said he is willing to speak about his interactions with Comey under oath, although he did not indicate in what forum.
Trump says a lot of things. I wouldn't put any stock in any of it.
“Recommending Director Comey’s firing would seem to be a violation of his recusal, and Attorney General Sessions needs to answer for that,” the Democratic Senate leader, Chuck Schumer, said in a statement after Sessions’ Senate appearance was confirmed on Monday.


After Comey’s appearance on Thursday, the justice department put out a statement contradicting the ousted FBI director’s account of an appeal he made to Sessions to make sure he was not left alone with the Trump.


Comey said Sessions did not respond to that appeal. The justice department described the conversation very differently. “Mr Comey said, following a morning threat briefing, that he wanted to ensure he and his FBI staff were following proper communications protocol with the White House,” the statement said.

It insisted that the “attorney general was not silent; he responded to this comment by saying that the FBI and department of justice needed to be careful about following appropriate policies regarding contacts with the White House”.

If Sessions repeats this version of events on Tuesday, he will be testing his credibility against Comey’s.
That's a pretty tall order, judging by the Senate Intel Committee's near unanimous remarks to Comey about his appreciated integrity. Not to mention...
Ryan Goodman, a former Pentagon special counsel, argues that it was a test the attorney general was likely to fail, having previously made statements in the Senate that were proved untrue.
No shit. The other issue they'll be grilling him on is his lying about whether he'd had contact with the Russians at his confirmation hearing.

And here's an important legal matter (although this is not a court): does Sessions have contemporaneous notes? Does Comey? We know he made notes about his conversations with Trump. Did he also make them in this case?

At a hearing last week in which intelligence officials sought to evade questions, [the committee’s chairman, Senator Richard] Burr warned them to go back and consult with the White House about their legal position. “At no time should you be in a position to come to Congress without an answer,” the Republican senator said.
But Sessions is a Congressman. Will they hold him to the same standard? At least the Committee has had the benefit of a closed door session with Comey after the public one, where he will have answered more completely some of their questions, including his interaction with Sessions and probably what the FBI has discovered about Sessions' meetings with the Russians.
It appears that Comey and Jeff Sessions have directly opposing positions on how the Attorney General responded when Comey says he implored Sessions to prevent the president from directly communicating with him as FBI director. It is increasingly common these days for the administration to include a falsehood in an official statement. Repeating that falsehood under oath before Congress is an entirely different matter. It’s a federal crime. And these proceedings have a special counsel looking over them.

  Just Security
I'm very curious to see what happens here. I'm expecting Sessions to refuse to answer many, if not most, of the questions put to him this afternoon. But...stranger things have happened in the past four months.
How the Attorney General responded to Comey presents an even sharper issue for perjury. This does not come down to a different spin, nor a fact included in one account that is omitted in another. It comes down to a complete contradiction, in which one side’s statement clearly must be true and the other’s must be false.


If he repeats a claim that is contained in the Department of Justice’s “Statement on Testimony of Former FBI Director James Comey,” it is very likely that Sessions will commit perjury or a felony false statement or misrepresentation (which does not require being under oath).


The Justice Department’s statement reads:
“Mr. Comey said, following a morning threat briefing, that he wanted to ensure he and his FBI staff were following proper communications protocol with the White House.”
The Justice Department leaves out any reference to Comey’s stating that what the president had done was wrong and should never occur again. It also seems fair to read the Justice Department’s statement as saying that Comey was simply asking what he and his staff should do internally—as though the burden rested on them—and not asking the Attorney General to act to prevent a recurrence of such communications or to run interference with the President.


The Justice Department’s Statement has other indicia that it lacks truthfulness. The Justice Department’s spin on what Comey said to Sessions is hard to imagine since the President’s actions in removing everyone from the Oval Office to meet with Comey alone violated important protocols and Comey was obviously very upset by it in bringing it to the attention of the Attorney General; indeed, the Justice Department’s very description of the conversation—both sides of it—is hard to believe given the extraordinary event Sessions himself witnessed just the day before [Trump asking everyone to leave him and Comey alone].


It is difficult to prosecute someone for perjury because doing so requires proving the individual acted willfully, or believing their own statement was untrue. Similarly, felony false statements require the individual “knowingly and willfully” made the false statement. As an aside, it bears noting that the impeachment clause is not only for the commission of crimes (it can be broader than the elements of any federal offense), it does not involve criminal standards of proof, and it is not a remedy only for presidents’ wrongdoing (an attorney general can be impeached too).


Sessions’ own actions are important to the congressional investigations especially if he acted with willful disregard in response to the acts of the President and because he himself is potentially implicated in the obstruction of justice.


So, on Tuesday, it boils down to whether a lawmaker simply asks something like, “Mr. Sessions — under oath and at risk of committing perjury – do you stand by the Statement of the Justice Department concerning your interactions with Mr. Comey on February 15?”
We shall watch for that.  Will Sessions have a personal lawyer with him?  A DOJ lawyer?  Is that allowed for people giving testimony in these cases?

The author of the above-quoted article, Ryan Goodman, has another article in which he lays out five sets of questions he believes are important to be asked of Sessions this afternoon. Read them here.

...but hey, do what you want...you will anyway.

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