Attorney General Jeff Sessions in his Senate testimony Tuesday afternoon will look to neutralize fired FBI Director James B. Comey’s suggestions that President Trump meddled in an investigation of Russian collusion, analysts say, while also lifting suspicion over his past meetings with lightning-rod Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Longtime Republican operative Roger Stone, a Trump campaign adviser who is negotiating the terms of his own testimony before the House committee that grilled Comey, said Sessions will be advantaged by the fact that any concrete evidence of illegality has proved elusive.
“This to me is smoke but there’s no fire — the reason the Democrats must keep it alive is because they have no fire anywhere,” said Stone, who said Sessions can ascribe any conversations with Kislyak to his work as a former member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “Unless someone has evidence that the content of that conversation showed Sessions working against the interests of the United States of America, I don’t think we have a crime here.”
Sessions is expected to face sharp questioning as pressure ramps up on Trump to hand over to Congress any tapes of his private conversations with Comey.
“I don’t understand why the president just doesn’t clear this matter up once and for all,” U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told CNN’s “State of the Union”.
Trump kept the heat on Comey, accusing him of “cowardly” leaks and predicting many more. “Totally illegal?” Trump said in a tweet. “Very ‘cowardly!’ ”
Democratic operative Scott Ferson, former press secretary to U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, said Sessions is in a “tough spot” because he’ll be expected to channel Trump’s bombastic lines of defense while also defusing the controversy.
“You’ve got a president who’s threatening to testify under oath, and I’m sure Republicans think that’s skating dangerously close to perjury,” Ferson said. “What they need is to be able to reset facts, so the focus is on if there’s an actual crime that’s being committed.”
It was unclear if Sessions’ testimony will happen in a public or closed session.
In March, Sessions recused himself from the federal probe into contacts between Russia and the Trump campaign after acknowledging he met twice last year with Kislyak. Comey said last week the FBI had expected Sessions to distance himself from the probe weeks before he did.
GOP strategist Ryan Williams, a former spokesman for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, said Sessions could use this fact pattern to distance himself.
“I’m sure Attorney General Sessions would love to remove himself from it if possible, at least inoculate himself to some degree,” Williams said. “He needs to be able to answer some of the questions in a way that doesn’t prolong the controversy.”
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