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Sessions: DOJ policy not to comment on recusals

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is asked by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) whether he will recuse himself from the investigation of President Trump's personal attorney and "fixer" Michael Cohen.

Posted: Apr 26, 2018 7:48 AM
Updated: Apr 26, 2018 7:48 AM

Attorney General Jeff Sessions danced around questions Wednesday about whether he's recused himself in the investigation into President Donald Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen, whether he would resign in protest if his deputy was fired and whether he's discussed the Cohen matter with the White House.

Sessions was on Capitol Hill Wednesday for a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing to ostensibly discuss the Justice Department's budget, but the questions from senators repeatedly veered into his recusal in the Russia investigation, the latest developments with Cohen and the prospect Trump could fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein or special counsel Robert Mueller.

"You're at the helm of a Justice Department under siege," Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the panel, said at the hearing's outset. "This is your chance to talk to us about how you're going to protect it."

Sessions was indeed prepared to answer those questions, or in most cases, not answer them. Sessions' recusal in the Russia matter has frequently sparked Trump's ire on Twitter, and he's walked a fine line between keeping his head down and standing up for the Justice Department.

In most cases Wednesday, he ducked.

Following reports earlier this week that Sessions did not recuse himself in the Cohen case, Sessions would not comment on the matter when asked publicly for the first time, beyond saying he's sought advice from ethics officials, though not the Justice Department's top ethics official.

"I feel like following the rules of the department, which I'm trying to teach all of our people to do, that I should not answer that question," Sessions said when asked whether he was recused in the Cohen case. "It would be inappropriate for me to do so."

Leahy tried to get him to open up by asking whether Justice Department regulations required Sessions to be recused.

"It is the policy of the department that if you get into discussing the details of those matters you can reveal the existing scope or breadth or nature of a matter that would be inappropriate," Sessions responded. "I think the best answer from me after giving it some thought is to say that I should not announce that."

Later, Sessions did confirm to Sen. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat, that he would recuse himself if the Cohen investigation was connected to Russian election interference and the 2016 election. But he would not answer Coons' question about whether he'd talked about Cohen with anyone in the White House.

"I don't think it any significant, well, I'll just say this: The communications I might have to anyone in the White House I believe are the kind of communications that should not be revealed," Sessions said. "I believe I have the right to and responsibility to maintain confidence in those so I just am not able to go down that road."

Sessions also wouldn't discuss the prospect of Trump pardoning Cohen, though he did forcefully defend the constitutional right of the President's pardons of former Arizona county sheriff Joe Arpaio and former Vice President Dick Cheney aide Scooter Libby, which were made without consulting the Justice Department's pardon office.

Questions about firing the special counsel were also out of bounds, he determined. When Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, asked Sessions whether the attorney general or his designee could fire a special counsel generally, Sessions demurred.

"I believe it is not appropriate for me to opine or give my thoughts at this point, given the fact that I'm recused," Sessions said.

"So will you also not comment whether in your legal view the President can fire a special counsel?" Shaheen asked.

"I feel the same way about that question," Sessions said.

But Sessions did defend Rosenstein in the hearing, telling South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham he has confidence in his deputy attorney general, who supervises the special counsel probe.

"He works every day to do the job that he is called upon to do that got dropped in his lap," Sessions said.

Leahy also pressed Sessions about whether he would consider resigning in protest should the President fire Rosenstein, a scenario that was raised in reports last week.

"If the President were to improperly fire either the deputy attorney general, who supervises the Russia investigation, or the special counsel, would you resign in opposition?" Leahy asked.

"Sen. Leahy, that calls for a speculative answer, your question calls for speculation, I'm just not able to do that," Sessions responded.

"Even though you were surprised by that question?" Leahy asked with a laugh, eliciting at least a non-verbal cue from his former Senate colleague.

"You don't have to answer that," Leahy told Sessions. "Your smile answers the question."

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 486434

Reported Deaths: 6575
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1009131586
Ramsey43165803
Dakota36375392
Anoka33335388
Washington22121258
Stearns18752201
St. Louis14822263
Scott13308107
Wright12538116
Olmsted1181788
Sherburne874172
Carver775640
Clay692387
Rice670791
Blue Earth596635
Kandiyohi579674
Crow Wing521282
Chisago499545
Otter Tail483270
Benton447790
Winona418549
Mower405731
Douglas393368
Nobles387247
Goodhue386269
Polk343763
McLeod340049
Beltrami338651
Morrison324747
Itasca313646
Lyon313644
Becker312542
Isanti306756
Steele301511
Carlton300149
Freeborn282623
Pine282016
Nicollet259241
Todd248330
Brown245537
Le Sueur235720
Mille Lacs227947
Cass220424
Waseca209317
Meeker207434
Martin189928
Wabasha18673
Roseau180317
Hubbard160740
Houston157414
Dodge15294
Renville150340
Redwood147027
Fillmore13768
Chippewa136735
Pennington136316
Cottonwood135020
Wadena131020
Faribault123417
Aitkin119033
Watonwan11758
Sibley117310
Rock115914
Kanabec107519
Pipestone101624
Yellow Medicine97617
Murray9488
Jackson93610
Swift87918
Pope8075
Marshall78015
Lake74218
Stevens7418
Clearwater71914
Lac qui Parle68516
Wilkin67411
Koochiching61911
Big Stone5163
Lincoln5092
Grant4918
Norman4788
Unassigned44568
Mahnomen4417
Kittson40921
Red Lake3625
Traverse3075
Lake of the Woods2191
Cook1180

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 335218

Reported Deaths: 5443
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk51785551
Linn19463313
Scott17080210
Black Hawk14924292
Woodbury13778212
Johnson1312174
Dubuque12416194
Dallas1019092
Pottawattamie9828143
Story959345
Warren511674
Clinton500784
Cerro Gordo498882
Webster494487
Sioux479169
Marshall463072
Des Moines427161
Muscatine424191
Buena Vista412237
Wapello4025108
Jasper386266
Plymouth367478
Lee354252
Marion339869
Jones284654
Henry279637
Bremer268754
Carroll266349
Crawford252235
Boone242830
Benton240354
Washington239047
Mahaska215246
Jackson209738
Dickinson202440
Tama202365
Kossuth198055
Delaware185540
Clay183825
Winneshiek182827
Fayette178635
Page177819
Buchanan176929
Wright173831
Hamilton173742
Cedar171523
Hardin169439
Harrison167169
Clayton159854
Butler158831
Mills147920
Floyd147741
Poweshiek147730
Lyon145541
Cherokee145336
Allamakee142347
Madison141918
Iowa139423
Hancock137630
Grundy132030
Winnebago130231
Calhoun129311
Cass128751
Jefferson128334
Appanoose123147
Louisa122341
Mitchell120440
Chickasaw119615
Union118731
Sac118318
Shelby116433
Emmet115040
Humboldt113525
Franklin109019
Guthrie108928
Palo Alto100921
Howard99021
Montgomery96736
Clarke94720
Keokuk92029
Monroe89428
Adair81028
Ida81032
Pocahontas80919
Davis76323
Monona76327
Greene72910
Lucas71421
Osceola68215
Worth6667
Taylor64112
Decatur5699
Fremont5599
Van Buren53718
Ringgold50520
Audubon4739
Wayne45821
Adams3184
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