Washington—Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions whether he spoke with President Trump about FBI Director Comey’s handling of the Russia investigation. Sessions refused to answer whether he discussed the Russia investigation with the president.
Text of the exchange follows:
Senator Feinstein: Did you ever discuss Director Comey’s FBI handling of the Russia investigations with the president or anyone else?
Attorney General Sessions: Senator Feinstein that would call for a communication between the attorney general and the president and I’m not able to comment on that.
Feinstein: You are not able to answer the question here whether you ever discussed that with him?
Sessions: That’s correct.
Feinstein: And how do you view that since you discussed his termination, why wouldn't you discuss the reasons?
Sessions: Well, I—those were put in writing and sent to the president and he made those public, so he made that public.
Feinstein: So you’ve had no verbal conversation with him about the firing of Mr. Comey?
Sessions: Well, I’m not going discuss with you or confirm or deny the nature of our private conversations that I may have had with the president on this subject or others. And I know that how this will be discussed but that’s the rule that has been long adhered to by the Department of Justice, as you know, Senator Feinstein.
Feinstein: You’re a long-time colleague, but we heard Mr. Coats and we heard Admiral Rogers say essentially the same thing when it was easy just to say if the answer was ‘No’, ‘No.’
Sessions: Well, easy—it would have been easier so say if it was ‘Yes’, ‘Yes.’ But both would have been improper.
Feinstein: Okay. So how exactly where you involved in the termination of Director Comey? Because I am looking at your letter dated May 9 and you say ‘the director of the FBI must be someone who follows faithfully the rules and principles, who sets the right example for our law enforcement officials, therefore, I must recommend that you remove Director Comey and identify an experienced and qualified individual to lead the great men and women of the FBI.’
Do you really believe that this had to do with Director Comey’s performance with the men and women of the FBI?
Sessions: There was a clear view of mine and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein as he set out at some length in his memoranda, which I adopted and sent forward to the president, that we had problems there and it was my best judgment that a fresh start at the FBI was the appropriate thing to do, and when asked, I said that to the president is something I would adhere to.
Deputy Rosenstein’s letter dealt with a number of things. When Mr. Comey declined the Clinton prosecution that was really a usurpation and a stunning development. The FBI is an investigative team. They don’t discuss prosecution policies. And so that was a thunderous thing and also commented at some length on the declination on the Clinton prosecution, which you shouldn't do. Policies have been historic if you decline, you decline and don't talk about it. There are other things that indicated to me a lack of discipline and caused controversy on both sides of the aisle and I had come to the conclusion that a fresh start was appropriate and did not mind putting that in writing.