Wednesday, November 15, 2017

CONYERS: Sessions Testimony Leaves Concerns About Independence & Integrity Of DOJ

At DOJ Oversight Hearing, Sessions Refuses to Answer Questions & “Cannot Recall” Russia Details

Attorney General Refuses to Push Back on Pressure from White House; Stands by Weak Civil Rights Record; Hedges on Special Counsel for Clinton; Admits to Taking No Action to Protect U.S. Elections

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Department of Justice Attorney General Jeff Sessions testified before the House Judiciary Committee for the first time during its annual oversight hearing. Every Attorney General before Attorney General Sessions has testified before the House Judiciary Committee during their first six months of taking office.

Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) issued the following statement after the hearing:

“The Attorney General’s testimony today leaves me with grave concerns about the independence and integrity of the Department of Justice.  Attorney General Sessions paid lip service to the rule of law—but hedged his bets on the appointment of a special counsel to investigate President Trump’s political enemies.  I take little comfort in his testimony suggesting that the Department does not yet have a factual basis to pursue these charges.  The Department of Justice shouldn’t act this way to begin with.

“The Attorney General could not give us a straight answer on any of President Trump’s attacks on the Department or attempts to distract from the Russia investigation.  He stood by his record on voter ID laws and other measures designed to discriminate against minorities.  He freely admitted that he has done nothing to protect America’s next elections from foreign influence.  He also offered no clarification whatsoever on his shifting Russia testimony, except to say that he ‘did not lie’ and ‘cannot recall’ any key details.”

AG Sessions Responded “I Do Not Recall” to Dozens of Questions

Throughout the hearing, Attorney General (AG) Sessions avoided taking responsibility for his own statements, claiming a foggy memory about most aspects of contacts involving the Russian government. AG Sessions said “I did not lie” but refused to correct the record on his previous Senate testimony when asked by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX).  AG Sessions acknowledged that he was not sure what he told Papadopoulos regarding a possible Russia meeting. 

When pressed about Carter Page and his travels to Russia, Sessions replied, “No, I didn’t tell him not to go to Russia.  I didn’t recall [Page] saying that.  Am I supposed to stop him from taking the trip?”  AG Sessions also did not recall any discussions about changing the GOP platform regarding the Ukraine with Michael Flynn.

Attorney General Sessions Offered Little Clarity About a Second Special Counsel

Sessions could not explain why his involvement in a review of matters related to Hillary Clinton, James Comey, and Loretta Lynch for possible referral to a new special counsel does not violate the terms of his recusal. 

At his Senate confirmation hearing, he said:

“The proper thing for me to do would be to recuse myself from any questions . . . that involve Secretary Clinton and that were raised during the campaign.”

When Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) questioned Sessions today regarding the appointment of a second special counsel, Sessions responded that he believes that the Department has not yet established a factual basis that meets the standards of the appointments of a special counsel.  Rep. Jordan said it “looks like” wrongdoing took place.  AG Sessions responded: “‘Looks like’ is not enough basis to appoint a special counsel.” 

Sessions Refused to Answer Questions about Political Interference

Sessions refused to answer questions about whether President Trump could seek to fire Special Counsel Mueller. When asked about Steven Miller’s work on a letter describing the President’s motive for firing former FBI Director Comey, AG Sessions refused to answer—but also declined to invoke executive privilege.  Chairman Goodlatte refused Democratic efforts to compel an answer from the Attorney General.

Attorney General Sessions also would not answer questions regarding whether any one from the White House had contacted or attempted to influence DOJ regarding the AT&T/Time Warner merger, or efforts by Rupert Murdoch to purchase CNN. Before the hearing, Ranking Member Conyers and U.S. House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee Ranking Member David N. Cicilline (D-RI) pressed Chairman Goodlatte for a hearing on growing evidence of the Trump administration allowing politics to impact their review of mergers in the telecommunications and media industries. View the letter, below.

Attorney General Stands by Weak Civil Rights Record & Owns Election Security Failures

FBI Labeling of Black Activists 

When questioned by several Members, Attorney General Sessions said he had not seen the Black Identity Extremists memo released in August by the FBI and was unable to identify any current group that he would characterize as a “Black Identity Extremist.” The AG also was unable to identify any senior African-American staff in his office.

In October 2017, Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Cedric L. Richmond and Ranking Members John Conyers, Jr. (Judiciary), Bennie G. Thompson (Homeland Security), and Elijah E. Cummings (Oversight) sent a letter to  FBI Director Christopher Wray, requesting to meet about the origins of the assessment and how it will be used, and expressed concern about the assessment given the FBI’s “troubling history” of targeting black citizens, including Martin Luther King, Jr., and other civil rights leaders. View the letter here.

Supporting Voter Suppression
AG Sessions said that he will continue to defend voter ID laws that have been found to intentionally discriminate against minorities.  Session said that he believes he can “properly” enforce the laws without explaining how he plans to do so.

Lack of Action to Protect Future American Elections
AG Sessions acknowledged that the Department of Justice has not taken steps to secure future elections, and admitted our Nation is not where it needs to be to defend against foreign interference.

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