The US Justice Department attempted to counter potentially damaging testimony from former FBI director James Comey on Thursday by offering its own version of events that led to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal from the Tump-Russia investigation.
The department said in a statement that Sessions met with DOJ ethics officials “shortly after being sworn in” to discuss whether he should recuse himself from “existing or future investigations”related to the Trump campaign.
The Justice Department asserted that its discussions with Sessions were prompted byfederal rules stipulating that a DOJ attorney “should not participate in investigations” that pertain to individuals “with whom the attorney has a political or personal relationship.”
Sessions travelled extensively with the Trump campaign in 2016 and appeared at several events on behalf of the then-candidate.
In his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committe on Thursday, Comey said of Sessions, “We also were 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 said, without elaborating.
Sessions announced his recusal on March 2,after multiple news outlets reported he failed to disclose during his Senate confirmation hearings that he met with Russian ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak during Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. The matter drew sharp criticism amid growing federal and congressional investigations into Russia’s meddling in the US election.
Read the Justice Department’s entire statement below:
WASHINGTON — “In response to testimony given today by former FBI Director James Comey, Department of Justice Spokesman Ian Prior issued the following statement:
Shortly after being sworn in, Attorney General Sessions began consulting with career Department of Justice ethics officials to determine whether he should recuse himself from any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States.
Those discussions were centered upon 28 CFR 45.2, which provides that a Department of Justice attorney should not participate in investigations that may involve entities or individuals with whom the attorney has a political or personal relationship. That regulation goes on to define “political relationship” as:
“[A] close identification with an elected official, a candidate (whether or not successful) for elective, public office, a political party, or a campaign organisation, arising from service as a principal adviser thereto or a principal official thereof ***”
Given Attorney General Sessions’ participation in President Trump’s campaign, it was for that reason, and that reason alone, the Attorney General made the decision on March 2, 2017 to recuse himself from any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States.
In his testimony, Mr. Comey stated that he was “not *** aware of” “any kind of memorandum issued from the Attorney General or the Department of Justice to the FBI outlining the parameters of [the Attorney General’s] recusal.” However, on March 2, 2017, the Attorney General’s Chief of Staff sent the attached email specifically informing Mr. Comey and other relevant Department officials of the recusal and its parameters, and advising that each of them instruct their staff “not to brief the Attorney General *** about, or otherwise involve the Attorney General *** in, any such matters described.”
During his testimony, Mr. Comey confirmed that he did not inform the Attorney General of his concerns about the substance of any one-on-one conversation he had with the President. Mr. Comey said, following a morning threat briefing, that he wanted to ensure he and his FBI staff were following proper communications protocol with the White House. The Attorney General was not silent; he responded to this comment by saying that the FBI and Department of Justice needed to be careful about following appropriate policies regarding contacts with the White House.
Despite previous inaccurate media reports, Mr. Comey did not say that he ever asked anyone at the Department of Justice for more resources related to this investigation.
In conclusion, it is important to note that after his initial meeting with career ethics officials regarding recusal (and including the period prior to his formal recusal on March 2, 2017), the Attorney General has not been briefed on or participated in any investigation within the scope of his recusal.”
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