U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is facing growing pressure from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue - from Capitol Hill lawmakers and from the White House - over his contacts with Russia’s former envoy to Washington, and for his later decision to recuse himself from the Department of Justice probe of alleged collusion between President Donald Trump's campaign team and Russia.
For a second consecutive day, Trump used a Twitter post Tuesday to criticize Sessions and suggest that Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate in last year's presidential election, should be the one facing scrutiny.
"Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes (where are E-mails & DNC server) & Intel leakers!" Trump wrote.
That followed a Monday tweet in which Trump described Sessions as "our beleaguered A.G." and asked why he was not "looking into Crooked Hillarys crimes & Russia relations?"
Senator Dianne Feinstein, the senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, called on Sessions Monday to appear before the panel as soon as possible to answer questions about his conversations with Russia’s former ambassador to Washington, Sergey Kislyak, during the 2016 presidential campaign. At the time, Sessions was an adviser to the Trump team, but also was still a member of the Senate from Alabama.
The Washington Post reported on Friday that Kislyak told his superiors in Moscow last year that he had discussed campaign-related matters with Sessions, contrary to what Sessions has said about those meetings. The newspaper said the information came from intercepted communications between Kislyak and Moscow.
“This is a serious matter, and the Judiciary Committee must hear directly from the attorney general,” Feinstein wrote in a letter to Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, urging him to invite Sessions to testify.
Al Franken, another Democratic member of the Judiciary Committee and a Trump critic, called the purported conversation between Sessions and Kislyak a “very troubling development in the relationship between the Trump team and Russia."
“It is now clearer than ever that Jeff Sessions needs to testify again in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee so that we can get some answers,” Franken wrote on Facebook on Friday. However, Franken later told CNN, Grassley “does not want [Sessions] to come back.”
A spokesman for Grassley told VOA late Monday that the committee chairman does want Sessions to appear later this year, once the attorney general's team of senior officials is in place, "so we could get a complete picture of how the department is functioning with a full staff." The spokesman, Taylor Foy, said the Democratic minority in the Senate has "insisted on dragging out the confirmation process for Justice Department nominees," and this had made it more difficult for the committee to perform its function of oversight.
The Senate Judiciary Committee oversees the work of the Department of Justice, and it is one of several Congressional panels investigating Russian meddling in last year's presidential election.
In March, Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe, following reports that he had failed to disclose full details of his contacts with Kislyak during the previous month, when he testified before the Senate committee's hearing to confirm his appointment as attorney general.
Sessions denied that he misled members of the Judiciary Committee, and said that he withdrew from any role in the Russia probe because he had served as a campaign adviser to Trump.
Sessions’ recusal angered Trump, who has blamed the attorney general's actions for the appointment of Robert Mueller, the special counsel who now leads the investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. But despite the president's unusually pointed remarks, Sessions has said he intends to stay on as attorney general "as long as that is appropriate."
In an interview with The New York Times last week, Trump said he never would have picked Sessions to be attorney general if he had known Sessions would step away from the Russia investigation. The president's anger has continued to simmer, evidently, as shown in a tweet Monday morning in which Trump described Sessions as “our beleaguered A.G.” and asked why he was not “looking into Crooked Hillarys crimes & Russia relations?”