Democrat Zoe Lofgren quizzed Sessions, who chaired the Trump campaign’s national-security committee, on whether he was aware of fired National-Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak, his work on behalf of the Turkish government, or his involvement in a supposed plot to kidnap the Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who currently resides in Pennsylvania, and bundle him off to Turkey. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused Gulen of fomenting a coup and has sought his extradition from the U.S. Sessions said he was unaware of such a scheme.
In March, just after his own meetings with Kislyak were revealed, Sessions abruptly announced he would “recuse myself from any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for president of the United States,” in part replying to the political furor. (Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte kicked the hearing off by telling Sessions he disagreed with that decision.) Two months later, President Trump fired James Comey, and Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, decided to appoint Robert Mueller as a special counsel, with far-reaching results.
As Mueller’s probe heats up, including the Papadopoulos plea and indictments of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates, many Republicans and conservative pundits have begun loudly demanding that the Justice Department appoint a special counsel to investigate several matters related to Hillary Clinton, including the DOJ’s process for investigating her use of a private email server and a Russian uranium deal. On Monday, The Washington Post revealed a letter from Sessions to Goodlatte in which he said the department was considering appointing a special counsel.
But in Tuesday’s hearing, Sessions seemed cool to the idea. One of the sharpest exchanges of the day was between Jim Jordan, a hardline conservative from Ohio, and Sessions. With a long wind up of innuendo, Jordan asked Sessions what it would take to get a special counsel appointed.
“It would take a factual basis that meets the standards of the appointment of a special counsel,” Sessions said. After Jordan pressed further, Sessions replied, somewhat testily, “You can have your idea but sometimes we have to study what the facts are and to evaluate whether it meets the standards that require a special counsel.”
Of course, some Democrats insisted that the decision was not Sessions’s to make, citing his recusal.
“Now, for my yes or no question, are you recused from investigations that involve Secretary Clinton?” Ranking Democrat John Conyers asked.
“I cannot answer that yes or no because under the policies of the Department of Justice, to announce recusal in any investigation would reveal the existence of that investigation and the top ethics officials have advised me I should not do so,” Sessions replied.