WASHINGTON – Attorney General Jeff Sessions refused Wednesday to say whether he’s recused himself from involvement in the Justice Department’s investigation into President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.
“I should not answer that question; it would be inappropriate to do so,” Sessions said at a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing. “It is the policy of the Department of Justice that those who recuse themselves not state the details of it or confirm the existence of a investigation or the scope or nature of that investigation.”
A person familiar with the matter said earlier that Sessions has decided not to recuse himself from the investigation into Cohen but will step back from specific matters if required by department rules.
At the hearing, Sessions said he’s abiding by a recusal he announced in March 2017 that he won’t be involved in matters related to the 2016 presidential campaigns.
Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, told Sessions that “recusal is not discretionary,” especially in the Cohen investigation because Trump has a direct interest in the outcome.
Under questioning by Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, Sessions said he will recuse himself if he discovers any connection between the Cohen investigation and the continuing inquiry into Russian interference or anything related to the 2016 election.
He declined to say whether he’s discussed the Cohen investigation with anyone at the White House.
Leahy said the Justice Department is “under siege,” with Trump’s “relentless, and I think baseless attacks” on senior leaders of the department and the FBI. He asked if Sessions would resign if Trump fired special counsel Robert Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is supervising Mueller’s investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign.
“That calls for a speculative answer,” Sessions said. “I’m just not able to do that.”
The attorney general vouched for Rosenstein, saying “he works every day to do the job that he is called up to do. I do have confidence in him.”
The hearing was focused mostly on Justice Department budget issues, making it a shorter and less contentious exchange than Sessions’s previous congressional appearances as attorney general. The former senator, who served as a senior adviser to Trump’s campaign, was sharply criticized in those hearings over his credibility on issues including his contacts during the campaign with the Russian ambassador to the U.S.
Sessions is scheduled to testify again on Thursday morning before a House Appropriations subcommittee, with the Justice Department budget again the announced topic.