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Jeff Sessions does little to inspire public confidence

Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Capitol Hill, Tuesday,

Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, June 13, 2017. Credit: AP / J. Scott Applewhite

Attorney General Jeff Sessions was given the opportunity “to separate fact from fiction and to set the record straight” on the swirling charges of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and the firing of FBI Director James Comey for investigating it all.

Disappointingly, he didn’t do so in his testimony Tuesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Worse, Sessions refused to commit to tell senators more in a classified, closed-door session as Adm. Mike Rogers, the National Security Agency director, did on Monday evening.

Sessions was combative in angrily defending his reputation against “scurrilous and false allegations” that he personally colluded with Russia in the campaign. Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon asked Sessions whether there were any undisclosed reasons for his recusal from the Russia probe. “Why don’t you tell me? There are none!” he replied indignantly.

But Sessions was less convincing in many other answers. It was not reassuring to repeatedly hear “I don’t recall” responses about what happened during the campaign and his contact with Russian officials. He even admitted at one point that he was nervous about some rapid-fire questioning.

But his refusal to answer questions about his conversations with President Donald Trump, particularly whether they discussed the reasons for Comey’s firing in an Oval Office meeting the day before the dismissal, was most disturbing. His insistence that there was no reason to recuse himself from the dismissal of Comey because it was due to Comey’s improper handling of the Hillary Clinton’s email case and not to end the Russia investigation, as Trump himself said in a TV interview, was just not believable.

Sessions’ claim of a vague, possibily unwritten or even nonexistent policy that he couldn’t talk about his conversations with the president likewise didn’t hold water. The White House has not invoked executive privilege and Sessions, in a novel legal argument, said he was trying to protect Trump in case the president wanted to invoke the privilege at some later point.

As Sessions testified, Trump, who traveled to Wisconsin to discuss a workforce development initiative, declined to answer a reporter’s question about whether he had confidence in his attorney general.

The strangest disconnect of the day was among Republicans and Democrats on the intelligence committee who agree that the Russians dangerously interfered with the 2016 election and will do so in future ones, and a White House that has a bizarre lack of interest in what happened. Chairman Richard Burr of North Carolina repeatedly noted the gravity of what the committee is uncovering and the need for Americans to be given the facts to make their own judgments.

Yet, the president has continued to call the hearings and probes a “witch hunt” and “fake news,” and the White House continues its aggressive pushbacks. The latest tempest includes stories that Trump is considering firing Robert Mueller, the special counsel who picked up where Comey left off. At least Sessions said he had “confidence” in Mueller.

But Sessions did little to persuade the American public to have confidence in him.— The editorial board