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Sessions questioned in Russia probe, Trump may be up soon

Eric Tucker, Associated Press | 1/24/2018, 7:06 a.m.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions was questioned for hours in the special counsel's Russia investigation, the Justice Department said, as prosecutors ...
In this Dec. 15, 2017, file photo, President Donald Trump sits with Attorney General Jeff Sessions during the FBI National Academy graduation ceremony in Quantico, Va. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions was questioned for hours in the special counsel's Russia investigation, the Justice Department said, as prosecutors moved closer to a possible interview with President Donald Trump about whether he took steps to obstruct an FBI probe into contacts between Russia and his 2016 campaign.

The interview with Sessions last week makes him the highest-ranking Trump administration official, and first Cabinet member, known to have submitted to questioning. It came as special counsel Robert Mueller investigates whether Trump's actions in office, including the firing of FBI Director James Comey, constitute improper efforts to stymie the FBI investigation.

With many of Trump's closest aides having now been questioned, the president and his lawyers are preparing for the prospect of an interview that would likely focus on some of the same obstruction questions. Expected topics for any sit-down with Mueller, who has expressed interest in speaking with Trump, would include not only Comey's firing but also interactions the fired FBI director has said unnerved him, including a request from the president that he end an investigation into a top White House official.

In the Oval Office on Tuesday, Trump said he was "not at all concerned" about what Sessions may have told the Mueller team.

The recent questioning of the country's chief law enforcement officer shows the investigators' determined interest in the obstruction question that has been at the heart of the investigation for months through interviews of many current and former White House officials.

Sessions himself is a potentially important witness given his role as a key Trump surrogate on the campaign trail and his direct involvement in the May 9 firing of Comey, which he advocated. The White House initially said the termination was done on the recommendation of the Justice Department and cited as justification a memo from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that faulted Comey for his handling of the Hillary Clinton email server investigation.

But Trump said later that he was thinking of "this Russia thing" when he fired Comey, and he had decided to make the move even before the Justice Department's recommendations.

Sessions was one of Trump's earliest and most loyal allies, the first senator to endorse him during the presidential campaign and then a key national security adviser. He was present for an April 2016 Trump foreign policy speech at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, where he spoke with the Russian ambassador to the United States. He also attended a meeting a month earlier with campaign aides including George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser who pleaded guilty last year to lying to the FBI.

Sessions may well have been asked during his Mueller interview about any interactions he had with Papadopoulos, as well as about his own encounters during the campaign with the Russian ambassador.

He might also be able to supply information about White House efforts to discourage him from recusing himself from the Russia investigation, which he did last March after acknowledging two previously undisclosed encounters with the ambassador. And he may also have been asked about an episode from last February in which Comey says Trump cleared the room of Sessions and other officials before encouraging him to end an investigation into fired national security adviser Michael Flynn.