Whether Attorney General Jeff Sessions will cite executive privilege during testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee is the question looming over Tuesday’s highly anticipated hearing.
Any invocation of executive privilege by the White House is sure to rile the Trump administration’s political opponents, most of who want Sessions to testify freely and openly about his role in the labyrinthian Russia investigation.
But the Justice Department is declining comment on whether Sessions will cite executive privilege, and the White House has not responded to questions about whether President Trump will invoke it.
“I think it depends on the scope of the questions, and to get into a hypothetical at this point would be immature,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters on Monday.
The Justice Department announced over the weekend that Sessions would be testifying before the committee to address claims made by former FBI Director James Comey in a Senate hearing last week.
“In light of reports regarding Mr. Comey’s recent testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, it is important that I have an opportunity to address these matters in the appropriate forum,” Sessions said in a statement.
It was initially unclear whether Sessions would be testifying publicly or behind closed doors. A DOJ spokesman suggested that the meeting would be a closed session.
Sessions is a player in several components of the probe. He recused himself from the investigation on March 2, just after it was reported that he met at least twice last year with Russia’s ambassador, Sergey Kislyak.
In his testimony last week, Comey suggested that Sessions recused himself for reasons that have not yet been made public. After Comey met with the Senate Intelligence Committee in a closed session following the hearing, a report leaked out that Sessions may have had a third undisclosed meeting with Kislyak last year.
Sessions said he was recusing himself from the investigation because of his role as a campaign adviser to President Trump.
Sessions was also involved in Trump’s May 9 decision to fire Comey. Democrats say that since Trump has claimed that he fired Comey over the Russia investigation, Sessions’ involvement in the firing violates his recusal pledge.
In his testimony last week, Comey said that he contacted Sessions after a Feb. 14 Oval Office meeting in which he says that Trump asked him to back off of an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Sessions and other administration officials were in the meeting but left at Trump’s request. Comey says he asked Sessions to never put him in that position again.
Sessions is expected to cite executive privilege to avoid discussing some of those matters, according to an ABC News reporter.
Mike Levine cites sources who say that Sessions will avoid discussing his conversations with Trump regarding Comey’s firing. Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein reportedly met with Trump the night before Comey was canned.
A Justice Department spokesman said “decline comment” when asked whether Sessions will cite executive privilege on his conversations with Trump or any other matters, including his conversations with Comey or his meetings with Kislyak.
An invocation of executive privilege would have precedent. Bill Clinton asserted executive privilege during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, while George W. Bush invoked it on several occasions.
Barack Obama invoked executive privilege to withhold documents related to the Operation Fast and Furious gun running scandal.