Sessions Says He's 'Not Been Improperly Influenced' by Trump

Attorney General Jeff Sessions talks with lawmakers at a House Judiciary Committee hearing Nov. 14, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

WASHINGTON – House Judiciary Committee Raking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) today joined a chorus of Democrats accusing President Trump of improperly influencing the Russia investigation through his nudging of the Justice Department to investigate Hillary Clinton.

The Justice Department on Monday signaled that it’s considering appointing a second special counsel to explore alleged illicit behavior by the Clinton Foundation and its involvement in the sale of Uranium One to Russian entity Rosatom.

Conyers, during an oversight hearing with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, read off a series of tweets from President Trump. The Michigan Democrat claimed that even President Nixon never would have openly criticized Democrats the way that Trump has.

Conyers cited three separate tweets from Trump on July 24 and Nov. 3, which asked why the “beleaguered” Sessions isn’t looking into “crooked” Hillary Clinton’s crimes and Russia relations.

“Everybody is asking why the Justice Department (and FBI) isn’t looking into all of the dishonesty going on with Crooked Hillary & the Dems…” Trump tweeted on Nov. 3, the same day that he tweeted, “Pocahontas just stated that the Democrats, lead by the legendary Crooked Hillary Clinton, rigged the Primaries! Lets [sic] go FBI & Justice Dept.”

Conyers said he assumed that Trump was referring to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who has been repeatedly questioned about claims that she has Native American ancestry.

“When Richard Nixon spoke about us that way, at least he had the courtesy to do it behind closed doors,” Conyers said at the hearing, while accusing the State Department of catering to President Trump’s “political needs.”

Clinton’s State Department was one of the U.S. government entities that signed off on the sale of Uranium One, a Canadian company that represents about a fifth of U.S. production; the 2010 sale was approved by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which includes representatives from the department of the Treasury, Homeland Security, Justice, Defense, Energy and Commerce, in addition to State and the U.S. Trade Representative. According to reports, several of the company’s owners gave about $145 million to the Clinton Foundation. Trump has accused Clinton of giving away Uranium One to the Russians.

In a radio interview coinciding with his tweets, Trump said that “the saddest thing, because I’m the president of the United States” is “I am not supposed to be involved with the Justice Department.”

“I am not supposed to be involved with the FBI. I’m not supposed to be doing the kinds of things that I would love to be doing. And I’m very frustrated by it,” Trump added. “Why aren’t they going after Hillary Clinton with her emails and with the dossier, and the kind of money?”

Conyers asked Sessions during the hearing if it’s common for the leader of a country to order the criminal justice system to retaliate against political opponents in a functioning democracy.

“I would say that the Department of Justice can never be used to retaliate politically against opponents, and that would be wrong,” Sessions said.

Conyers then asked Sessions if the president should make public comments that might influence a pending criminal investigation.

“A president cannot improperly influence an investigation, and I have not been improperly influenced and would not be improperly influenced,” Sessions said. “The president speaks his mind. He’s bold and direct about what he says, people elected him, but we do our duty every day based on all of the facts.”

Conyers noted that during his confirmation hearing, Sessions said that the “proper thing” for him to do would be to recuse himself from any questions or details involving investigations into Secretary Clinton or the 2016 campaign. Sessions, who was the first senator to endorse Trump, served as a policy adviser for the Trump campaign.

“Are you recused from investigations that involve Secretary Clinton?” 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.

Sessions was also asked about Roy Moore, the Republican candidate looking to fill the Senate seat Sessions vacated when he accepted the attorney general role. Moore has been accused by five women claiming that he either sexually assaulted or inappropriately sought out relationships with them while they were teenagers. Sessions told the committee that he has “no reason to doubt these young women.”

When asked if DOJ would investigate Moore’s actions if he wins the Senate seat, Sessions said, “We will evaluate every case as to whether it should be investigated. This kind of case would be a state case. I would say that the ethics people at the Department of Justice, and I talked to them about that when this campaign started – it’s the seat I used to hold – that they advised me that the attorney general should not be involved in this campaign.”