Attorney General Jeff Sessions rejected James Comey’s claim that he “did not reply” when the former FBI director expressed concerns about having direct, private communications with President Trump.
“He didn’t recall this,” Sessions told the Senate intelligence committee on Tuesday, “but I responded to his comment by agreeing that the FBI and Department of Justice needed to be careful to follow department policies regarding appropriate contacts with the White House.”
Sessions’ version of events contradicts the description of the encounter Comey described last week during his own testimony before the committee. Comey said that, following a routine counterterrorism briefing on Feb. 14, Trump asked Sessions and others present to leave the Oval Office before urging the FBI director to back off the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russian officials, telling him, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go.”
Comey said he believed that Trump abruptly fired him last month because of the FBI’s investigation into whether any Trump associates colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election.
According to Comey’s testimony, he spoke with Sessions shortly after this meeting and “took the opportunity to implore the attorney general to prevent any future direct communication between the president and me.”
“I told the AG that what had just happened — him being asked to leave while the FBI director, who reports to the AG, remained behind — was inappropriate and should never happen,” Comey told the committee. “He did not reply.”
During his own opening statements Tuesday, Sessions made a point of acknowledging the conversation between himself and Comey, stating: “While he did not provide me with any of the substance of his conversation with the president, Mr. Comey expressed concern about the proper communications protocol with the White House and with the president.”
However, he insisted that he did in fact reply to Comey’s concerns, adding, “I was confident that Mr. Comey understood and would abide by the department’s well-established rules governing any communications with the White House about ongoing investigations.”
“My comments encouraged him to do just that and indeed, as I understand, he did,” Sessions said. “Our Department of Justice rules on proper communication between the department and the White House have been in place for years. Mr. Comey well knew them, I thought, and assumed correctly that he complied with them.”
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