The Senate Judiciary Committee’s nine Democrats on Friday called for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to return to their panel and explain statements at his confirmation hearing about communicating with Russian officials that were, they said, “at best, incomplete and misleading.”
Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley promptly rejected the request.
The letter to Grassley came alongside a request that the Justice Department’s independent inspector general probe Sessions’ Thursday recusal from any investigations related to Russia’s interference in last year’s presidential campaign. The moves underscore Democrats’ plan to ratchet up pressure on the GOP over the growing questions surrounding President Donald Trump’s ties to Moscow.
In their letter to Grassley, the Judiciary Democrats said Sessions “has not explained why he failed to come forward and correct the record before reports of his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak became public, why there was a delay in recusing himself until those public disclosures, and why he only recused himself with respect to campaign-related investigations and not Russian contacts with the Trump transition team and administration.”
A written response from Sessions, which he has promised, is not sufficient in light of “the seriousness of this matter,” they added.
Soon after, Grassley issued a statement that he would not call Sessions back.
“Attorney General Sessions did the right thing by recusing himself, and he did exactly what he said he’d do regarding potential recusals when he was before our committee,” Grassley said. “It’s unfortunate that the Democrats didn’t even have the decency to give him an opportunity to clear up confusion to the statement in writing.”
The former Alabama senator will, however, appear before the committee again in the near future at an annual oversight hearing. The issue will also play a central role in Tuesday’s Judiciary panel confirmation hearing for the No. 2 and No. 3 spots at the Justice Department.
Five Democrats signed onto the request for an inspector general inquiry into Sessions’ recusal, which they hope will touch on any communication Sessions had with the White House before announcing he would step aside from campaign-related probes.
The Democrats also asked the IG to “consider whether and when the Attorney General consulted with ethics officials or others regarding his involvement in these investigations, his contacts with Russian officials, and his testimony before our Committee during the confirmation process.”
Seung Min Kim and Josh Gerstein contributed to this report.
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