U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions will testify at a public hearing before the Senate intelligence committee on Tuesday, the committee chairman said in a statement.
Justice Department spokesperson said Sessions requested the open setting because “he believes it is important for the American people to hear the truth directly from him.”
Sessions’s interactions with Russian officials during U.S. President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign have come under scrutiny by the committee and federal investigators.
His testimony will follow fired FBI director James Comey’s riveting session before the same Senate panel last week. Comey spoke of receiving pressure from Trump to drop a probe into former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russia.
Comey’s remarks drew an angry response Friday from the president, who accused him of lying.
Trump’s aides have dodged questions about whether conversations relevant to the Russia investigation have been recorded, and so has the president. Republicans have pressed Trump to say whether he has tapes of private conversations with Comey and to provide them to Congress if he does — or possibly face a subpoena.
Flesh out the truth
“I don’t understand why the president just doesn’t clear this matter up once and for all,” said Republican Senator Susan Collins, a member of the intelligence committee, referring to the existence of any recordings. She described Comey’s testimony as “candid” and “thorough,” and said she would support a subpoena of any tapes if needed.
Republican Senator James Lankford, also a member of that committee, agreed the panel needed to hear any tapes that may exist. “We’ve obviously pressed the White House,” he said.
Lankford said Sessions’s testimony Tuesday will help flesh out the truth of Comey’s allegations, including Sessions’s presence at the White House in February when Trump asked to speak to Comey alone. Comey alleges that Trump then privately asked him to drop a probe into Flynn’s contacts with Russia.
Comey also has said Sessions did not respond when he complained he didn’t “want to get time alone with the president again.” The Justice Department has denied that, saying Sessions stressed to Comey the need to be careful about following appropriate policies.
Democratic Senator Jack Reed said “there’s a real question of the propriety” of Sessions’s involvement in Comey’s dismissal, because Sessions had stepped aside from the federal investigation into contacts between Russia and the Trump campaign. Comey was leading that probe.
Reed said he also wants to know if Sessions had more meetings with Russian officials as a Trump campaign adviser than have been disclosed.
Obstruction of justice allegations
Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, a member of the intelligence committee, sent a letter to Senator Chuck Grassley, urging him to investigate possible obstruction of justice by Trump in Grassley’s position as chairman of the judiciary committee. Feinstein is the top Democrat on that panel and a member of both.
She said Sessions should also testify before the judiciary committee, because it was better suited to explore legal questions of possible obstruction. Feinstein said she was especially concerned after National Intelligence director Dan Coats and National Security Agency director Michael Rogers refused to answer questions from the intelligence committee about possible undue influence by Trump.
Sessions stepped aside in March from the federal investigation into contacts between Russia and the campaign after acknowledging that he had met twice last year with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. The former senator from Alabama told lawmakers at his January confirmation hearing that he had not met with Russians during the campaign.