I see here that the U.S. Senate confirmed Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III as attorney general on February 8th in a very contentious and narrow 52-47 vote. Every Republican voted for him and every Democrat voted against. I see here that Sessions recused himself from the FBI’s Russia investigation on Thursday March 2nd. February is a short month, so that only amounts to a three-week span. Sessions’s recusal came a day after the news blared in the headlines that he had likely perjured himself during his confirmation hearings by failing to disclose meetings with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Obviously, some people knew of the meetings long before it was reported in the nation’s papers and probably even before Sessions testified.
My point, though, is that there wasn’t a long lag between the news breaking and Sessions recusing himself.
That’s all my set up for talking about James Comey’s testimony today as it pertained to Sessions.
Right in the middle of this timeline, on Valentine’s Day, Comey attended a national security meeting in the Oval Office. At the conclusion of that meeting, the president asked everyone but Comey to leave and then told the FBI director that it was his hope that he could kill the investigation of Michael Flynn, who had been forced to resign the previous day.
After that meeting, Comey met with his leadership team at the FBI to figure out how to respond, and they discussed who, if anyone, they should contact at the Department of Justice. They concluded that it didn’t make sense to talk to Sessions about it because they assumed that he would soon be forced to recuse himself from any part in the investigation of Flynn or anything related to Russia.
In a cryptic note, Comey mentioned in his prepared statement and his testimony Thursday that the FBI expected Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from the Russia-related investigation. This turned out to be correct, as Sessions would later do just that, but Comey would not specifically say why he thought the attorney general would recuse himself.
The now-fired FBI director wrote that he decided not to tell Sessions about Trump’s request that he hoped he would let go of the Flynn investigation, because he and the bureau leadership felt “it made little sense to report it to Attorney General Sessions, who we expected would likely recuse himself from involvement in Russia-related investigations.”
When asked about this Thursday by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Comey suggested that there were reasons Sessions could not remain involved in the probe but that those reasons involved classified information.
Comey said that the FBI felt Sessions would recuse himself “for a variety of reasons.” He also said the bureau was “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 did not elaborate further on these “facts.”
The upper echelon of the FBI correctly suspected on the 14th or 15th of February that Sessions would have to recuse himself “for a variety of reasons” but the rest of us wouldn’t know any of those reasons until about March 1st. More than that, there are still reasons we don’t know and cannot know which is why Comey would only discuss them today in a classified setting.
I always suspected that the information about Kisylak leaked from the FBI because they were the entity responsible for doing domestic surveillance on the Russian ambassador. So, maybe they didn’t just suspect that Sessions would be forced to recuse himself but were themselves responsible for assuring that outcome.
What’s curious is another thing that Comey said in his testimony:
“We were convinced, and in fact I think we already heard that the career people were recommending [Sessions] recuse himself, that he wasn’t going to be in contact with Russia-related matters much longer,” he continued. “And that turned out to be the case.”
I’m not sure who the “career people” would be in this instance and I think it’s kind of important to know the answer to that question. Were these people at the Department of Justice or in the FBI? Were they seriously having that conversation in mid-February? And based on what set of facts?
Meetings with Kislyak, even if we’re talking about several of them, wouldn’t amount to “a variety of reasons.”
It clearly looks like the FBI thought of Sessions as a suspect which would explain why they’d want to sideline him to protect the investigation. It obviously explains why they didn’t want to keep him in the loop about the presidents’ efforts to obstruct the Flynn investigation. And it also explains why Comey, after he was fired, leaked news of his memos on his conversations with Trump for the freely admitted reason that he wanted to force the appointment of a Special Counsel.
President Nixon once said that the people have the right to know if their president is a crook. He was right about that. But I think the people also have the right to know if their Attorney General is a crook.