By CHARLIE SAVAGE, EMMARIE HUETTEMAN and REBECCA R. RUIZ
Attorney General Jeff Sessions is scheduled to testify starting at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, before the Senate Intelligence Committee about matters linked to the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
In March, Sessions recused himself from any inquiry related to the 2016 presidential campaign. Although he tried to justify that decision as stemming only from the fact that he had played a role in the Trump campaign, it came after a report that he had two contacts with the Russian ambassador last year despite having testified at his confirmation hearing that he had not communicated with the Russians. (He has argued that his testimony was accurate in context.)
He has been under renewed scrutiny since his role came up several times during testimony before the Intelligence Committee last week by James Comey, whom President Donald Trump fired as FBI director. In a letter to Congress on Saturday, Sessions said he wanted to address those matters before the same panel.
After some initial uncertainty over whether Sessions would deliver his testimony in an open or closed session, the Justice Department said Monday that he would testify publicly.
Sessions came up in three contexts during Comey’s testimony. Here is a look at the key areas that are likely to be the subjects of the senators’ questions.
First, Comey told the committee that after a Feb. 14 meeting, Trump cleared the Oval Office of other officials – including Sessions – and then made private comments that Comey interpreted as an improper order to drop a criminal investigation into Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser. Comey implored Sessions never to leave him alone again with the president, but Sessions did not reply.
In a statement issued after the testimony, the Justice Department denied that account on behalf of Sessions.
“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,” the statement said.
Comey testified that he did not tell Sessions specifically about what Trump had said because he and other FBI officials expected that Sessions would soon have to recuse himself, based on classified facts “that would make his continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic.”
That led officials to believe that “he was not going to be in contact with Russia-related matters much longer.”
Comey saved the details of that matter for testimony he delivered behind closed doors last week. CNN has reported that it appeared to center on intercepted “Russian-to-Russian conversations” suggesting that Sessions may have had a third undisclosed contact with the Russian ambassador at an April 2016 reception at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington.
The Huffington Post first reported March 8 that Sessions and the ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, had attended that event, at which Trump was also present, but the Justice Department has said Sessions did not speak with the ambassador then. Two weeks ago, after CNN resurfaced the idea that there may have been a third meeting, Sarah Isgur Flores, a spokeswoman for Sessions, reiterated a denial.
“The facts haven’t changed; the then-senator did not have any private or side conversations with any Russian officials at the Mayflower Hotel,” she said in a statement.
A Democratic senator asked Comey last week about whether Sessions was adhering to his recusal from matters related to the Russia investigation in light of the fact that when Trump fired Comey, the White House released a memo from Sessions recommending his removal.
The memo did not mention Russia, but Trump separately told NBC News that he was thinking about the Russia investigation when he decided to fire Comey.
“If, as the president said, I was fired because of the Russia investigation, why was the attorney general involved in that chain?” Comey testified Thursday. “I don’t know.”