Democrats Question Sessions’ Recusal Claims

Conyers, Cummings request more info on Comey firing

Posted May 12, 2017 at 2:20pm

By REMA RAHMAN And JOHN T. BENNETT, CQ ROLL CALL

The top House Democrats on the Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees are expressing “grave concerns” over Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ involvement in the firing of FBI Director James Comey.

In a letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Reps. Elijah E. Cummings and John Conyers Jr. said Sessions’ recommendation to terminate Comey may have contradicted sworn testimony he gave before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Cummings is the ranking member of the Oversight Committee while Conyers is the top Democrat on the House Judiciary panel.

In January, Sessions said during his confirmation hearing he would recuse himself from investigations concerning President Donald Trump’s opponent in the presidential campaign, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Sessions was part of Trump’s campaign.

Later in March, Sessions said he would recuse himself from any investigation into connections between Trump’s campaign associates and the Russian government.

That probe had been led by Comey before Trump fired him on Tuesday.

The recusal, one of Sessions’ first acts as attorney general, came amid a wave of Democratic criticism over conversations Sessions had while still a senator with Russia’s ambassador to Washington, Sergey Kislyak. Sessions had been asked about any such contacts with Russian officials during his confirmation hearing, and indicated he had had none. 

Once the Kislyak conversations surfaced, Sessions said he was merely carrying out routine legislative duties of a Senate Armed Services Committee member. At the time, Trump defended Sessions.

“He could have stated his response more accurately, but it was clearly not intentional,” the president said in a statement, also charging congressional Democrats with carrying out “a total witch hunt.”

Conyers and Cummings wrote Sessions may have violated a law that disqualifies members of the Justice Department from participating in certain investigations if it could result in personal, financial or political conflicts of interests.

“The penalty for any Justice Department official who violates such a recusal could be termination,” the senior lawmakers wrote.

Conyers and Cummings are also asking Rosenstein for details about Sessions’ involvement in Comey’s firing, including what role he played in recommending the termination, concerns with testimony he gave about investigating connections between Trump associates and the Russian government and whether Comey asked for additional resources for the probe right before he was dismissed.

“We recognize that the Attorney General’s actions have thrust you into a very delicate position with respect to enforcing the law of the land against your superior,” the Democrats wrote. “In this case, however, the Attorney General previously recused himself from these matters, leaving you with the solemn obligation to fulfill your responsibilities to the Department of Justice and the nation.”

On Wednesday, White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked if, given Sessions’ recusal from the matter, he should have a role in helping select the next FBI director.

“In terms of whether or not Attorney General Sessions should have a role, look, the FBI is doing a whole lot more than the Russia investigation,” Huckabee Sanders said. “I know everybody in this room and probably most of the media around the world would like to think that’s the FBI’s sole responsibility, but that’s probably one of the smallest things that they’ve got going on their plate, and the 20,000 employees that work there.

“And, so, he should absolutely have a role in seeing who runs that agency and that department,” said added.

The Conyers-Cummings letter comes a day after all 17 Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee wrote to Chairman Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., pressing him to set a hearing on the Comey firing. That group of Democrats want Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein to testify at that session, which they are demanding be held by May 25.

Over the in Senate, meanwhile, Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa and ranking member Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., have requested a full committee briefing with both Rosenstein and ccting FBI Director Andrew McCabe.