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Ahead of Sessions’ Testimony, House Judiciary Dems Call on Attorney General to Clarify His Role in Ongoing Russia Investigation

Jun 12, 2017

Washington D.C. -  Ahead of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ appearance before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence this week, House Judiciary Committee Democrats, led by Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), today sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions requesting information on the charges made by former FBI Director James Comey last week. This is the ninth letter sent to the Department of Justice by House Judiciary Democrats related to these matters. To date, there has been no response.

In their letter, the Members wrote, “As Members of the House Judiciary Committee, we write to ask that you provide us with information relating to your knowledge concerning recent charges by Mr. Comey regarding improper conduct by the President; the veracity of your disclosure regarding meetings with Russian officials; and your compliance with the terms of your recusal.  We ask these questions to fulfill our responsibility to protect the integrity of the Department of Justice and the Office of the Attorney General, whether or not you are recused from an ongoing investigation.  If necessary, we are willing to receive any portion of your response in a classified setting.”

Today’s letter was signed by every Democratic member of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, including: Representatives John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Hank Johnson (D-GA), Ted Deutch (D-FL), Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), Karen Bass (D-CA), Cedric Richmond (D-LA), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), David Cicilline (D-RI), Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Brad Schneider (D-IL). 

Background:

The House Judiciary Committee has jurisdiction over the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It also has jurisdiction over the Foreign Agents Registration Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee have long called on Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) to join them in their oversight efforts.

On March 2nd, all House Judiciary Committee Democrats sent a letter to former Federal Bureau of Investigations Director James Comey and former U.S. Attorney for Washington, D.C., Channing D. Phillips, calling for an immediate criminal investigation into U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ statements before Congress in regards to his communications with Russian officials.

On March 10th, every Democrat on the Committee called on Chairman Goodlatte to “get moving on Trump oversight” by holding formal committee hearings on Russia’s interference with the election and related matters. 

On March 31st, Reps. John Conyers, Jr., Hakeem Jeffries and Ted Lieu, called for Sessions to clarify his involvement with the Russia investigation, after his statements on leaks of classified information.

On May 11th, all seventeen Democrats on the House Committee on the Judiciary sent a letter to Chairman Bob Goodlatte, urging him to conduct immediate hearings into the firing of James Comey. 

On May 12th, Rep. John Conyers, Jr., and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, sent a letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein raising “grave concerns” about Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ direct participation in President Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey despite the fact that he previously recused himself from any actions involving the investigations of the Trump and Clinton presidential campaigns.

On May 16th, all 33 Democratic Members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the House Committee on the Judiciary, sent a detailed letter to their respective Republican Chairmen outlining their demand for an immediate investigation into the actions of President Donald Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and top White House aides.

On May 24th, Conyers called on House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte to investigate Sessions.

The text of today’s letter is available here and below.

 

June 12, 2017

 

 

The Honorable Jeff Sessions

Attorney General

U.S. Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, D.C. 20530

Dear Attorney General Sessions,

In his testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, former FBI Director James Comey offered compelling testimony about President Trump’s attempts to influence the ongoing Russia probe.  On review, it seems that you play a direct role in several aspects of his story.  Given that you have now cancelled your scheduled appearance before the House and Senate appropriations committees—a second time, and for the express purpose of avoiding questions about the Russia investigation in open session—the need for your public response is more pressing than ever.  

As Members of the House Judiciary Committee, we write to ask that you provide us with information relating to your knowledge concerning recent charges by Mr. Comey regarding improper conduct by the President; the veracity of your disclosure regarding meetings with Russian officials; and your compliance with the terms of your recusal.  We ask these questions to fulfill our responsibility to protect the integrity of the Department of Justice and the Office of the Attorney General, whether or not you are recused from an ongoing investigation.  If necessary, we are willing to receive any portion of your response in a classified setting.

1.      In his recent testimony, Mr. Comey described a February 14 meeting in the Oval Office.  President Trump asked you to leave the room. This was one of several occasions where the President, one-on-one with Director Comey, reportedly asked your subordinate to drop the investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.[1]  Can you confirm that these events occurred?  Please describe what transpired.

2.      Your spokesperson has since indicated that, after the February 14 meeting, you told Director Comey that “the FBI and the Department of Justice needed to be careful about following appropriate policies regarding contacts with the White House.”[2]  Can you explain why you apparently failed to enforce these “appropriate policies” when President Trump directed you to leave the Oval Office so that he could speak to Director Comey alone?  Have you taken any specific actions to limit inappropriate communications between the White House and the Department of Justice, and if so, how did you do so?

3.      In his Senate testimony, Mr. Comey suggested that the FBI was “aware of facts that [he] can’t discuss in an open setting that would make [your] continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic.”  He was aware of these facts at least two weeks before you announced your recusal.  To what facts might Mr. Comey be referring?

4.      After omitting the meetings from your initial testimony to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, you disclosed two meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.[3]  You apparently chose not to disclose a reported third meeting with the Ambassador.[4]  Reports also indicate that you failed to disclose many of these contacts on your application for a security clearance.[5]  Why did you fail to disclose these contacts?  Do you have any plan to once again revise your Senate testimony?  Outside of these meetings with the Ambassador, have you had any additional contacts with any representative of the Russian government?

5.      Given that your recusal appears to cover any ongoing investigation into contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and given the President’s statement that he fired Director Comey because of “this Russia thing with Trump and Russia,”[6]please explain what enabled you to participate in the decision to terminate the Director.  Is your recusal from “any existing or future investigations of matters related in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States” still in effect?

            Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.  We note that, as of this writing, the Department owes us a response to at least eight outstanding letters.  We ask that you respond to each of these requests for information as soon as possible.  In any event, we ask that you respond to this letter no later than June 26, 2017.

 

[1] Open Hearing with Former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation James Comey before the S. Comm. on Intelligence, June 8, 2017 (statement of former FBI Director James Comey).

[2] Josh Gerstein, Sessions pushes back on Comey testimony, Politico, June 6, 2017.

[3] Letter from U.S. Attorney General Jefferson Sessions to Sen. Charles Grassley, Chairman, S. Comm. on the Judiciary, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Ranking Member, S. Comm. on the Judiciary, Mar. 6, 2017.

[4] For months, the fact of a third meeting has been well-substantiated by news reports and other open source materials.  See Resolution of Inquiry Requesting the President And Directing the Attorney General to Transmit, Respectively, Certain Documents to the House of Representatives Relating to Communications with the Government of Russia, H. Rep. 115-74 (Mar. 31, 2017).  “The Attorney General’s supplemental testimony discloses two meetings with the Russian ambassador—at the convention in July 2016 and in his office in September 2016.   It does not, however, acknowledge the possibility of a third meeting with Ambassador Kislyak. . . . Neither the Attorney General’s initial testimony nor his supplementary statement account for any conversation that may have taken place at this April meeting.” Id. at 12.

[5] Manu Raja & Evan Perez, AG Sessions did not disclose Russia meetings in security clearance forms, DOJ says, CNN, May 24, 2017.

[6] James Griffiths, Trump says he considered “this Russia thing” before firing FBI Director Comey, CNN, May 12, 2017

115th Congress