Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee neglected to ask Jeff Sessions whether or not President Donald Trump has requested loyalty. The attorney general’s answer would have been helpful to establish a pattern, since former FBI Director James Comey testified that he felt pressured to be loyal to the president, which Trump has denied.
Yet, the beauty of a public hearing is that sometimes specific answers appear without the asking of specific questions. That was the case with Jeff Sessions, who wore his loyalty to the president like a badge of defiance whenever questioners probed too deeply.
Two female senators from two different parties and two different states on opposite sides of the country questioned why Trump fired Comey. Was it for the official reasons — the way Comey conducted himself during the Clinton email investigation as cited in the memo written by deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein? Or was it because of the Russia probe, as Trump said later on television?
“Do you concur with the president [that] he was going to fire Comey regardless of [Rosenstein’s] recommendation because the problem was the Russian investigation?” asked Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D- CA).
Yet, the beauty of a public hearing is that sometimes specific answers appear without the asking of specific questions.
“I will have to let his words speak for himself. I'm not sure what was in his mind explicitly when we talked to him,” Sessions responded.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) followed up. She wondered why Sessions fired Comey when the AG had already recused himself from the Russia investigation. Collins gave him the opportunity to declare, “Comey’s firing had nothing to do with the Russia investigation.” Sessions did not say that. Instead, he explained that he had a responsibility to supervise the federal agencies, and the Russia investigation was just one of thousands.
During that exchange, Sessions may have provided an implicit tell. Perhaps Trump had complained to him about the way Comey was handling the Russia investigation. If so, it could lead investigators to further explore whether the president and Sessions had obstructed justice by firing Comey, and whether Sessions violated his recusal.
In more explicit answers, however, Sessions fiercely protected his conversations with the president, refusing to divulge their contents. He explained that Trump had not invoked executive privilege, but that Sessions wanted to preserve the president’s right to assert it in the future.
While it is certainly common for attorneys general to refuse to divulge their conversations with a president, Sessions’ loyalty to Trump was on full display the day before his testimony, along with most other cabinet members in that fawning, sycophantic, ingratiating opening statements to the president in the first full cabinet meeting.
From his perspective, Sessions accomplished what he intended at the hearing. He refuted reports that he had met with a Russian official at the Mayflower Hotel last year. Although Sessions has been forgetful and unclear about attending events where Russian officials were present or meeting with them previously, he delivered a convincing denial of wrongdoing.
“I can assure you that none of those meetings discussed manipulating the campaigns of the United States in any way, shape, or form. Or any hacking, or any such ideas,” said Sessions.
Yet, for a public that is eager to get to the bottom of the investigation into the hacking of a critical election, the pace moves too slowly, mainly due to the allegiance of public officials to President Trump instead of the welfare of our democracy.