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Sessions to Answer Questions Before Public at Intelligence Committee

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions will testify in open session Tuesday afternoon before the Senate Intelligence Committee per his request, according to the Justice Department.

Intel Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Vice-Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.) announced today that Sessions is scheduled to appear before the committee at 2:30 p.m.

A DOJ statement said Sessions wanted the hearing to be public because “he believes it is important for the American people to hear the truth directly from him and looks forward to answering the committee’s questions tomorrow.”

Asked today if Sessions would invoke executive privilege during his testimony, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said that “depends on the scope of the questions, and it would be — to get into a hypothetical at this point would be premature.”

“I think he’s going to testify. We’re aware of it and we’ll go from there,” he said. “…The president’s been clear, last week in the Rose Garden, that he believes that the sooner we can get this addressed and dealt with, that there’s been no collusion — he wants this to get investigated as soon as possible and be done with it so he can continue with the business of the American people.”

In front of the Intel panel on Thursday, former FBI Director James Comey said that he didn’t discuss all of his questionable Trump interactions with Sessions because senior management at the FBI believed the attorney general would soon recuse himself from the investigation into Russia’s campaign influence operation.

“Our judgment, as I recall, was that he was very close to and inevitably going to recuse himself for a variety of reasons. We also were aware of facts that I can’t discuss in an open setting that would make his continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic,” Comey said.

“And so we were convinced — and, in fact, I think we had already heard that the career people were recommending that he recuse himself — that he was not going to be in contact with Russia-related matters much longer, and that turned out to be the case.”

After a Feb. 14 meeting in the Oval Office in which Comey charges that President Trump said he hoped the FBI director would “let go” of the investigation into former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn, Comey said he went to see Sessions and asked the attorney general to not leave him alone with the president again.

“When I talked to him and said, ‘You have to be between me and the president, and that’s incredibly important,’ and I forget my exact words, I passed along the president’s message about the importance of aggressively pursuing leaks of classified information, which is a goal I share,” Comey said. “And I passed that along to the attorney general, I think it was the next morning, in our — in a meeting. And — but I did not tell him about the Flynn part.”

Comey said Sessions did not reply to his request to not leave him alone with Trump.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called it “a positive step” that Sessions opted for an open hearing.

“There are many unanswered and troubling questions, so the attorney general needs to be forthcoming,” Schumer said. “The Senate and the American people deserve to know exactly what involvement with the Russia investigation he had before his recusal, what safeguards are in place to prevent his meddling, and why he felt it was appropriate to recommend the firing of Director Comey when he was leading that investigation.”

“It is also imperative that Attorney General Sessions appear before other relevant committees, such as the Judiciary and Appropriations Committees, with oversight responsibilities over the Department of Justice,” he added. “Recommending Director Comey’s firing would seem to be a violation of his recusal, and Attorney General Sessions needs to answer for that.”

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), a member of the Intel committee, told CBS on Sunday that “the key things we have got to get, obviously, his side of the story related to Jim Comey, some of the conversations that Jim Comey had with the president, where Jeff Sessions was a participant there or at least was around to be able to get the rest of the story, Comey’s statement to him of, hey, I don’t want to get time alone with the president again, and that interaction, as well as these accusations that are flying out there about conversations that he might or might not have had with Russians prior to the election.”

“So, we want to be able to get his side of it, get all the facts out there,” Lankford said. “We’ve had a lot of unnamed sources in the media come out and make statements about Jeff Sessions. It would be very good to get it directly from him.”