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Special Counsel Questions AG Sessions, Former FBI Director Comey


FILE - United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former FBI Director James Comey have been interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller's team as part of its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether there was collusion between Russia and President Donald Trump's election campaign.

The New York Times reported Tuesday that Sessions was questioned for several hours last week about his contacts with Russian officials and whether Trump had obstructed justice, while Comey was interviewed last year in connection with a series of memos he wrote about his interactions with Trump.

Justice Department spokesman Ian Prior confirmed that the Sessions interview had occurred, but he declined to elaborate.

Chuck Cooper, Sessions' personal attorney, who reportedly accompanied the attorney general to the interview, said he had no comment.

FILE - Former FBI Director Robert Mueller, the special counsel probing Russian interference in the 2016 election, departs Capitol Hill following a closed-door meeting in Washington, June 21, 2017.
FILE - Former FBI Director Robert Mueller, the special counsel probing Russian interference in the 2016 election, departs Capitol Hill following a closed-door meeting in Washington, June 21, 2017.

David N. Kelley, a partner at the New York law firm of Dechert LLP who represents Comey, said he could "neither confirm nor deny" the reported questioning of Comey by Mueller's office.

The special counsel's office declined to comment about both interviews.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the White House was cooperating with the Mueller investigation, but she declined to say whether Trump would agree to answer questions from the special counsel.

Trump has repeatedly called the investigation a "witch hunt," saying there was no collusion between his campaign and Russia.

Asked whether he was concerned that Sessions had talked to Mueller's team, Trump told reporters in the Oval Office: "I'm not at all concerned."

First from Cabinet

Sessions was the first member of Trump's Cabinet and among more than a dozen other current and former administration officials and Trump campaign associates to be questioned by the special counsel.

The former senator and Trump campaign adviser recused himself from the Russia probe last March after it was disclosed he had failed to tell lawmakers during his confirmation hearing that he'd had two meetings with Russia's former ambassador to Washington, Sergey Kislyak. Sessions has denied having any improper contacts with Russian officials.

Other current administration officials interviewed in recent months by lawyers on the Mueller team include Trump son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner; White House communications director Hope Hicks; and White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller. Steve Bannon, Trump's former White House strategist, has reportedly been subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury.

The Muller investigation has produced two indictments and two guilty pleas.

Former campaign chair Paul Manafort and former Manafort associate Rick Gates were indicted in October on 12 counts of conspiracy, money laundering, making false statements and other charges in connection with their lobbying for former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

FILE - Former FBI Director James Comey smiles during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, in Washington, June 8, 2017.
FILE - Former FBI Director James Comey smiles during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, in Washington, June 8, 2017.

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos have pleaded guilty of lying to the FBI about their interactions with Russian officials.

The special counsel also is widely believed to be examining whether Trump has obstructed justice during the course of the investigation.

Questions about whether Trump should face obstruction charges surfaced after the president fired Comey last May. The White House initially said Trump had fired Comey because of Comey's handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation and at the recommendations of Sessions and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein. But Trump later indicated he'd dismissed the FBI director over the Russia investigation.

FILE - National security adviser General Michael Flynn arrives to deliver a statement during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Feb. 1, 2017.
FILE - National security adviser General Michael Flynn arrives to deliver a statement during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Feb. 1, 2017.

Comey, testifying about the circumstances surrounding his dismissal before a congressional panel last June, told lawmakers he took the president at his word and believed he was let go "because of the Russia investigation."

He also said Trump had asked during a White House encounter that he should drop the investigation into Flynn's contacts with Russian officials. Comey recorded his conversations in a series of memos, which he later turned over to the special counsel.

Trump has denied making the demand, calling it a "lie."

U.S. law makes it a crime to obstruct justice, or hinder an "official proceeding."

Legal experts say that while a sitting president can't be prosecuted for obstruction of justice or any other crime, the charge of obstruction can be used by Congress to impeach a president.

Former President Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998, in part for obstruction of justice, while one of three articles of impeachment brought against Richard Nixon in 1974 alleged obstruction of justice.

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