For the most part, former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Thursday has focused on President Donald Trump.
That makes sense: It is, after all, Trump who allegedly asked Comey to close the FBI investigation into former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn. And it was Trump who pressured him to disclose information publicly about the ongoing investigation into contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russian government in the interest of lifting the “cloud” hanging over the Trump presidency.
But Trump wasn’t the only one involved in firing Comey — and he presented a reason for firing him that Comey openly described Thursday as “lies, pure and simple.”
That task of firing the FBI director fell to the Department of Justice — and in particular, to Attorney General Jeff Sessions. And one of the most tantalizing hints Comey dropped during his Thursday testimony certainly raises some questions about Sessions’s involvement.
For one thing, Comey pointed out, Sessions didn’t just lie about the reason Comey was fired after the fact — he should never have been involved in the decision to fire him to begin with.
Sessions had recused himself from the Russia investigation in February, after reports surfaced that he’d met with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak during the campaign (and hadn’t reported that contact in his confirmation paperwork for attorney general or acknowledged it when questioned during his confirmation hearings).
So “if, as the president said, I was fired because of the Russian investigation,” he asked Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), “why was the attorney general involved in that chain? I don’t know.”
What’s even more interesting is what Comey does know, but wouldn’t publicly say, about Sessions’s recusal from the Russia investigation: He hinted Thursday that Sessions’s contact with Russia might be more extensive than previously known.
And during the subsequent closed session with the Senate Intelligence Committee, Comey reportedly told members about a third, previously undisclosed meeting between Sessions and Russian officials, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) told NBC.
Comey said that he expected Sessions to recuse himself from the Russia investigation even before Sessions officially did so. Under questioning from Wyden, he admitted that he hadn’t just made that assumption based on what was publicly known about the Kisylak meeting, but based on something else he’d known — but he wouldn’t publicly say what that thing was (emphasis added):
Our judgment, as I recall, is that he was very close to and inevitably going to recuse himself for a variety of reasons. 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. So we were convinced — in fact, I think we'd already heard that the career people were recommending that he recuse himself, that he was not going to be in contact with Russia-related matters much longer.
It’s now clear what Comey is referring to. Having multiple meetings, and not disclosing any of them during a confirmation, is a bigger sign of deliberate intent to mislead than just leaving one out.
Sessions has been the most unexpected member of the Trump administration to get caught up in the Russia scandal — unlike Trump or many of the president’s other advisers, he’s a career politician. He’s already on the outs with the president for things that aren’t related to Russia (although the president is always on the outs with someone in his White House). But more public scrutiny is probably the last thing he needs, especially regarding the Comey firing saga, which Thursday’s testimony ensures isn’t going away anytime soon.