WASHINGTON, U.S. - Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee on "Oversight of the U.S. Department of Justice," Attorney General Jeff Sessions has clarified that he would rebuff inquiries from lawmakers about his conversations with President Trump.
Sessions is expected to face questions on former FBI director James Comey’s firing and questions on the Russia investigation.
However, his refusal to talk about his conversations with Trump is sure to frustrate Democrats who have vowed to press the attorney general on the matter.
Early in the hearing, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) questioned Sessions on what Trump told him on the firing of Comey and Sessions repeatedly declined to say anything other than that the president had asked for his advice in writing.
He blasted his former FBI director, saying he did not believe “it’s been fully understood the significance of the error that Mr. Comey made” on the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.
He, however, refused to say if the president, in deciding to fire Comey, mentioned to him the ongoing investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential race.
Sessions added that he had not been interviewed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the Russia investigation, about Comey’s firing.
Before the Committee meeting, Democrats had warned Sessions they expected him to answer questions about his conversations with Trump-related to firing of Comey and the Russia investigation.
However, in his opening remarks Sessions said that he wouldn’t, nor would he honor Democrats’ request that he detail the particular topics on which Trump would assert executive privilege and block his testimony.
Sessions said, "I can neither assert executive privilege neither can I disclose today the contents of my confidential conversations with the President. It is well established that the President is entitled to have private, confidential conversations with his Cabinet officials ... such communications are the core of executive privilege."
Sessions continued, "I cannot waive that privilege myself or otherwise compromise his ability to assert it."
In June, at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, Sessions recused from the Russia case and he also refused to detail his conversations with the president.
However, Democrats have questioned his rationale for not providing at least some information.
Last week, in a letter to Sessions, they said the attorney general needed to formally identify the topics over which Trump would assert executive privilege, adding that Sessions thus could not address and fully answer questions about the others.
The Democrats wrote, “We expect that when you appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on October 18th, you will have determined whether the president will invoke executive privilege as to specific topics and will be prepared to answer completely all questions in those areas on which he has not. As to the former category, we will expect you to provide the Committee with a list of issues over which the privilege has affirmatively been asserted.”
Meanwhile, in his opening remarks, Sessions also defended Trump’s travel ban, saying it could help prevent terror attacks in the United States.
He further called the directive an “important step” in the fight against terror.
Sessions said, “It is a lawful and necessary order that we are proud to defend. We're confident that we will prevail as time goes by in the Supreme Court."
The travel ban was blocked by two different federal judges on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Sessions meanwhile also said that military leaders had told him to expect an “increase in attacks” as the Islamic State is pushed out of strongholds in Syria and Iraq.
According to Legislators, they are also set to question the country’s top law enforcement officer on a wide range of topics, including homegrown terrorism and the rise in opioid deaths, including on why the Justice Department had previously supported legislation that some now say undermined the Drug Enforcement Administration’s ability to stem the flow of pain pills.
Sessions is also expected to be pressed on how he has shifted the department’s position in voting rights cases and on protections for LGBT people.
This is the first time Sessions has appeared for a hearing before the Judiciary Committee since his confirmation hearing in January.
In a statement, the committee chairman, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), said he had not insisted the attorney general come sooner because he had hoped Sessions would have more of his leadership team in place first.