Attorney General Jeff Sessions will testify Tuesday in an open hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee for its ongoing probe into Russia’s interference in last year’s presidential election.
Sessions was originally scheduled to defend the Justice Department’s fiscal 2018 budget request to House and Senate appropriators this week, but told the committees in a letter late Friday that he would instead meet with Senate Intelligence.
Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, is now slated to appear on behalf of the Trump administration’s DOJ budget request.
In his letter to the subcommittee chairmen, Sessions justified the switch by saying some appropriators had made clear their intention to ask him about the Russia investigation, which the attorney general has recused himself from.
“In light of reports regarding Mr. Comey’s recent testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, it is important that I have an opportunity to address these matters in the appropriate forum,” Sessions wrote. “The Senate Intelligence Committee is the most appropriate forum for such matters, as it has been conducting an investigation and has access to relevant, classified information.”
Appropriators and members of the Judiciary Committee are not pleased with the decision by the attorney general to bypass their committees.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, who is the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee and a member of the Judiciary Committee, said on Twitter that Sessions had provided false testimony to him and Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., about contacts with Russian officials that led to his recusal from the bureau’s Russia probe.
Atty Gen. Sessions provided false testimony in response to questions from me and @SenFranken about his contacts with Russian officials. (1)
3) My mssg to AttyGen Sessions: Approps & Judiciary have oversight of DOJ. You need to testify before both in public. You can’t run forever.
The ranking Democrats on the full Appropriations Committee and the subcommittee overseeing the Justice Department shared Leahy’s sentiment.
“The American public deserves to hear from Attorney General Sessions not just about potential impropriety surrounding the 2016 presidential campaign, but also about the Department of Justice’s 2018 budget request, which would substantially cut support for state and local law enforcement while also reducing funding for operating expenses of the FBI,” Reps. Nita M. Lowey and José E. Serrano said in a statement.
It’s not as though Rosenstein will face easier questioning from the Senate appropriators Tuesday morning, however. Rosenstein authored a memo regarding Comey’s handling of the investigation into the use of a private email server by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that was used as a subtext for his dismissal. President Donald Trump later said he had already decided to fire the FBI director.
The schedule change follows Comey’s blockbuster testimony before the Intelligence Committee last week. Sessions, who has recused himself from the Russia investigation, told appropriators that the Intelligence panel was the more “appropriate forum” in the wake of Comey’s testimony.
Ryan Lucas contributed to this report.