Attorney General Jeff Sessions appeared to drive with caution — and stay in his bureaucratic lane — during three hours of testimony on Tuesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
That is, Sessions didn’t seem willing to swerve over the line to broadside President Donald Trump’s critics by echoing the more extreme of his boss’ recent statements regarding James Comey, the Russia probe and ex-adviser Michael Flynn.
But Sessions also fended off Democrats trying to quiz him about any conversations inside the administration.
Sessions confirmed under oath that ex-FBI Director Comey expressed unease about being called in to talk alone with Trump.
On Thursday, Comey swore while sitting in the same hearing chair that Trump asked him to let go of probing ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn.
On Tuesday, Sessions said Comey never told him the specifics of that February meeting. But the former Alabama senator also said he agreed Comey should indeed deal internally only with his higher-ups at the Justice Department, although Trump can obviously speak to whomever he wishes.
On the other side, Sessions did inveigh against “false attacks, innuendoes and leaks” against him regarding Russian ties. And he did stand by his department’s memo to Trump advising Comey be dumped and a new FBI director hired, insisting that change had been discussed for months.
So given Washington’s usual divide, it was all a matter of whose partisan narrative — reflected in the different senators’ questions — you wished to follow in tracking Sessions’ answers.
Democrats have prodded the conversation toward the idea of GOP campaign collusion with Russia. Sessions held firm, saying he saw and took part in no such thing.
As a former Trump campaign surrogate, Sessions insisted he kept to his recusal from the Russia probe even while he had a hand in firing James Comey as FBI director — which Trump later justified based on the Russia investigation.
Sessions said in so many words that he couldn’t read Trump’s mind, and that as a matter of long-standing policy he wasn’t going to repeat conversations he had on the topic with the president.
If Sessions hadn’t stuck to that line, nobody knows what complications might have resulted.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who’s really the key player here?
Sessions said he had confidence in Mueller, but could not say if Trump did. As security adviser during the campaign, Sessions said, he did not recall being asked by the candidate about alleged Russian interference in the election.
By the end of the hearing, it looked as if Sessions had gotten himself to a safe exit — at least in terms of legislative oversight.