News & Politics

Jeff Sessions Repeatedly Refused to Tell Senators If He'll Sit Out Cohen Case

The attorney general evaded the questions by saying he wouldn't even confirm the investigation existed.

Photo Credit: mark reinstein / Shutterstock

For the second time in as many days, Attorney General Jefferson Sessions has equivocated when asked about his position with regards to the Michael Cohen investigation.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions evaded lawmakers’ questions on Wednesday about whether his longstanding recusal from campaign-related investigations extended to the Justice Department inquiry into President Trump’s personal lawyer, saying only that he would not confirm the existence of the investigation itself.

Refusing to confirm that an investigation exists is a new level of Sessions’ hear-no, see-no, speak-no position. This is an investigation that notably started with raids on the office and home of Trump’s personal attorney. It’s featured numerous courtroom appearances in which the identity of client number three, also known as Sean Hannity, was revealed. It’s been the subject of half a dozen Trump tweets, including Trump’s legal opinion on the horrible erosion of attorney-client privilege. But Sessions not only won’t own up to whether or not he’s recused himself from the investigation, he’s seriously playing the “Investigations? What investigation?” card.

SPONSORED

The topic of recusal is particularly sensitive for Mr. Sessions, once a close ally of Mr. Trump and one of his earliest political supporters. By refusing to answer lawmakers’ questions about the Cohen investigation, Mr. Sessions avoided further wrath from Mr. Trump if he were to conclude that his attorney general had stepped back from an inquiry that the president is said to view as a greater threat than the special counsel investigation into Russian meddling.

Sessions’ “particularly sensitive” situation represents an extraordinary effort to become Schrodinger’s attorney general—both recused and un-recused. By not recusing himself, Sessions avoids a fresh blast from his boss, and retains the right to jump in should it seem that the flames from Cohen’s garbage fire are starting to singe his own very fine coat. But by maintaining the illusion that he may have, somehow, secretly recused himself, Sessions is able to disavow any knowledge of … anything, really. Just in case.

But this bit of pinhead dancing isn’t likely to hold up for long.

  

Mr. Leahy, who also wrote to Mr. Sessions last week asking about his involvement in the inquiry, pointed out that the attorney general had originally told Congress he would recuse himself “from any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for president.”

“I am honoring the recusal in every case and every matter that comes before the Department of Justice,” Mr. Sessions replied.

This response immediately followed the one in which Sessions refused to state that the investigation existed. But it does exist. 

And while this second non-answer may not seem to add anything to the conversation, it actually defines the limits of Session’s intentional blindness. So far, the Cohen investigation, launched by the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York and with raids carried out by the New York office of the FBI, hasn’t been directly connected to the Trump-Russia investigation under the direction of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Mueller may have informed Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein of the potential crimes that led to the doors being opened at Trump’s attorney, but so far that case seems to be more about campaign violations and banking fraud not connected to the Trump team’s dealings with foreign officials.

But, that’s a barrier that’s not likely to stay permanently in place.

The new story explains that a group of Trump operatives, including top lawyer Michael Cohen and fired former campaign manager Paul Manafort, along with a pro-Putin Ukrainian parliamentarian named Andrii V. Artemenko and Mr. Sater are pushing President Trump on a 'peace plan' for Russia and Ukraine.

Cohen was directly tied into Manafort’s dealings in Ukraine, which we’ve since learned included communications with a Russian operative while Manafort was working on Trump’s campaign.

Campaign. Cohen. Manafort. Ukraine. Russia. All of the links are in place. 

Sessions may be sitting back with his eyes averted and his hands clamped over his ears, but when Robert Mueller steps in to connect Cohen with the rest of the Russia investigation, that box is going to be opened. And what’s inside isn’t a Jeff Sessions who has recused himself from the Cohen case, it’s going to be a Sessions who had violated his own statements.

Not that anyone in this White House seems to be held to any standards when it comes to lying. And it wouldn’t be the first time Sessions violated his recusal

“The scope of the recusal is very broad — ‘any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for President…’ The grounds for firing Mr. Comey in the Rosenstein memorandum are explicitly stated to be Mr. Comey's public comments about Mrs. Clinton, during the campaign and prior to the election,” Gillers said.

And not that anyone at all intends to talk about any potential penalities for Sessions shifting his stance when convenient.

"He self-recused himself, so there's nobody who can accuse him of a breach," Wildes said ...

Recused. Not recused. If there’s no penalty for violating that promise … it’s not a promise at all.

 

Don't let big tech control what news you see. Get more stories like this in your inbox, every day.

Mark Sumner is the author of the nonfiction work "The Evolution of Everything" as well as several novels including "Devil's Tower."