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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 8:46 AM
Updated: Apr 26, 2018 8:48 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."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1524527

Reported Deaths: 20751
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion2077652558
Lake1010411517
Allen946081024
Hamilton73638551
St. Joseph65362761
Elkhart50026632
Vanderburgh48959530
Tippecanoe44411338
Johnson38772527
Hendricks36850462
Porter34709476
Madison29301547
Clark26328328
Vigo25941346
LaPorte23600313
Monroe23478249
Howard22382381
Delaware21877370
Hancock18857220
Bartholomew18433216
Kosciusko18124203
Warrick17207215
Wayne16474303
Floyd16129257
Grant15566299
Morgan14615232
Boone13622138
Noble11983142
Shelby11877152
Dearborn11825113
Henry11771201
Marshall11444171
Dubois11418152
Jackson10772104
Cass10380143
Lawrence10308221
DeKalb10292132
Huntington10277140
Gibson9749126
Montgomery9377144
Knox9162125
Harrison9157117
Whitley886771
Steuben8739105
Jasper8325116
Putnam8306100
Clinton827596
Miami8249135
Jefferson8030127
Wabash7914139
Ripley7278116
Adams6713103
Daviess6661130
Scott663586
White624484
Greene6159112
Clay615275
Decatur6062120
Wells6001120
Jennings600081
Fayette5886122
Posey561648
LaGrange535797
Randolph5171129
Washington511470
Owen5068100
Fountain482580
Spencer457456
Sullivan449866
Starke443986
Fulton440393
Orange435083
Jay419964
Rush418839
Perry397555
Carroll384549
Franklin382850
Vermillion363562
Pike327845
Parke327338
Tipton320675
Blackford275955
Pulaski275375
Newton235461
Brown233556
Benton221521
Crawford220132
Switzerland201414
Martin191822
Warren179522
Union172619
Ohio125216
Unassigned0759

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 2496243

Reported Deaths: 31987
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin2696772100
Cuyahoga2600613087
Hamilton1742641756
Montgomery1162791651
Summit1084961418
Lucas929121193
Butler82981963
Stark766321431
Lorain63976809
Warren52895489
Mahoning50955930
Lake47462611
Clermont46371452
Delaware40674220
Trumbull39527790
Licking38492416
Medina38487427
Fairfield35469349
Greene33906435
Portage32283366
Clark31960453
Richland29400444
Wood29143301
Allen25702403
Miami23931408
Muskingum23316255
Columbiana22903409
Wayne21965365
Tuscarawas19512428
Erie18531224
Ashtabula18489362
Marion18456235
Scioto17888214
Ross17287260
Pickaway16251181
Hancock16004232
Geauga15456229
Lawrence14746186
Belmont14033248
Union1403384
Huron13838184
Jefferson13519261
Sandusky13180200
Athens12624107
Knox12037201
Seneca11934204
Darke11316202
Ashland11157184
Washington11009172
Auglaize10785147
Crawford10333178
Shelby10308160
Brown9972145
Fulton9661154
Highland9632151
Guernsey9612122
Defiance9486137
Logan9403147
Clinton9299132
Mercer9015112
Madison8971111
Preble8428170
Williams8263138
Putnam8024136
Champaign7974113
Ottawa7909123
Jackson7763121
Perry7415102
Coshocton7345136
Morrow723984
Fayette703292
Pike658489
Hardin6532133
Gallia634391
Adams6159127
Van Wert6025121
Henry598196
Hocking5835105
Wyandot498894
Carroll4961101
Holmes4857167
Paulding421665
Meigs397774
Monroe313868
Harrison296362
Noble295652
Morgan289448
Vinton254646
Unassigned08
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