US attorney-general Jeff Sessions is all set to testify publicly to a Senate panel on Tuesday, setting up another potentially dramatic congressional hearing on possible ties between President Donald Trump's campaign and Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential race.
Sessions is likely to face questions by the Senate intelligence committee over his dealings with Russian officials during the campaign and whether he had a role in firing former FBI director James Comey, who testified last week before the same panel.
Until the panel chairman's statement on Monday, it had been unclear whether Sessions would testify in an open or closed setting.
Comey told the panel last Thursday that the FBI had information in mid-February on Sessions that would have made it "problematic" for him to continue leading a federal probe into Russian attempts to influence the presidential election.
Sessions recused himself from the inquiry in March after media reports that he had been in two previously undisclosed meetings last year with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak.
Members of the committee are likely to ask Sessions about a possible third undisclosed meeting that is now under investigation, according to media reports.
Sessions, a former senator and an early supporter of Trump's election campaign, will be the most senior government official to testify to the committee on the Russia issue. The matter has dogged the Republican president's early months in office.
A justice department spokeswoman said Sessions requested the open setting because "he believes it is important for the American people to hear the truth directly from him."
Let's take a closer look at the man who has become a key figure in the probe:
Who is Jeff Sessions?
Blunt and plainspoken, Sessions, 70, went from a GOP foot soldier to prosecutor to politician and ultimately one of president Donald Trump's leading champions, sharing his hardline views on national security and immigration. Trump rewarded his loyalty on the campaign by tapping him as the nation's top law enforcement officer.
Sessions is a devout Methodist who came of age in the segregated south. He cut his teeth as a federal prosecutor in Mobile, Alabama, at the height of the drug war, and many of the policies he has tried to implement as attorney-general have roots in that time period. As a United States attorney in 1986, Sessions faced allegations of racially charged remarks, and they cost him a federal judgeship. Sessions has called those allegations "false charges," and said they were hurtful and has tried to move past them.
What were his Senate priorities?
Sessions generally leant right of his Republican colleagues, often articulating more conservative views than those of party leaders in the Senate.
Sessions was a leading opponent of the Senate's 2013 immigration overhaul, which he called too permissive. He instead advocated for broad presidential powers to curtail immigration, an issue that drew him to candidate Trump early. He opposed efforts to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, supported expanded government surveillance and criticised the Voting Rights Act as placing an unfair burden on states. He joined a bipartisan push to reduce federal sentencing disparities that treated crack cocaine offences much more harshly than crimes related to powder cocaine, a disparity that disproportionally impacted minority communities. But he later opposed the Senate's effort to overhaul the criminal justice system, warning it could lead to violence.
What has he done in the justice department?
As attorney-general, Sessions has quickly worked to undo Obama-era policies. He signalled his strong support for the federal government's continued use of private prisons, reversing a directive to phase out their use. He also recently directed the nation's federal prosecutors to pursue the most serious charges possible against the vast majority of suspects, a rollback of Obama-era policies that aimed to reduce the federal prison population and show more lenience to lower-level drug offenders.
Keeping with the Trump administration's anti-immigration agenda, Sessions has also urged federal prosecutors to intensify their focus on immigration crimes such as illegal border crossing or smuggling others into the United States. And he has threatened to withhold coveted grant money from localities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities as they try to detain and deport people.
What's the trouble?
Sessions has been dogged by the Russia investigation. He recused himself from the federal probe in March after acknowledging that he met the Russian ambassador to the United States twice in 2016. He told lawmakers at his January confirmation hearing that he had not met with Russians during the campaign.
Questions are swirling about possible additional encounters with the ambassador, Sergey Kislyak. Senate Democrats have raised questions about whether the men met at an April 2016 foreign policy event at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington. The justice department has said that while Sessions was there, for a speech by Trump, there were no meetings or private encounters.
Media reports last week said Sessions offered to resign because of tensions with Trump over his decision to recuse himself from the FBI's Russia probe. The matter is also being investigated by several congressional panels, including the committee.
Russia has denied interfering in the US election. The White House has denied any collusion with Moscow.
Critics charged that by firing Comey on 9 May, Trump was trying to hinder the FBI's Russia probe and the ex-FBI chief added fuel to that accusation with his testimony last week. Trump has denied he tried to interfere with the probe.
Published Date: Jun 13, 2017 11:04 pm | Updated Date: Jun 14, 2017 02:35 am