It was a tale of two hearings, and five long hours, Tuesday on Capitol Hill.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions was alternately applauded for his work while encouraged to go further (by Republicans) and grilled (by Democrats) during a sworn question-and-answer session with the House judiciary committee.
The hearing did include some cajoling from the GOP members, who put on display their desire for a probe into issues related to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and time as secretary of state. But the cross-examination from Democrats was testier, as they pressed Sessions for details on Trump and Russia.
Here are 10 exchanges to remember:
Opening statements set the tone
Chairman Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, began the proceeding with a commentary on the Obama Justice Department’s shortcomings and an attack on Sessions’ predecessor, Loretta Lynch:
“Our last DOJ oversight hearing was beyond disappointing. Attorney General Loretta Lynch gave the least fulsome and least transparent testimony that I can recall in my time in Congress. It was plainly a disservice to the American people. Ms. Lynch failed to respond substantively to nearly every question posed by members of this committee.”
After Goodlatte’s opening remarks, the committee’s top Democrat, Michigan Rep. John Conyers, took his turn – swiping back at the current administration:
“I would rather spend our time today discussing the upkeep, the criminal justice system, the enforcement of civil rights and the work we must all do to ensure access to the ballot box. Instead, we must spend our time debating the troubles of a wayward administration; how the attorney general conducts himself before Congress; how President Trump undermines the integrity of the justice system and how the department continues to ignore the oversight requests of this committee.”
Sessions leaves a door open
Early on in a very long day of testimony, Sessions rejected claims that he had lied about the Trump campaign and Russia. But the caveat, in boldface below, was notable for the space it left to accommodate future revelations:
“I would like to address the false charges made about my previous testimony. My answers have not changed. I’ve always told the truth and I have answered every question as I understood them to the best of my recollection as I will continue to do today.”
On a potential investigation into Hillary Clinton
The following came in response to a question from Conyers, who was trying to clear up Trump’s role, or lack thereof, in DOJ decison-making. At stake was whether a probe into Clinton was on the table:
“A president cannot improperly influence an investigation. … And I have not been improperly influenced and would not be improperly influenced. The President speaks his mind. He’s bold and direct about what he says, but people elected him. But we do our duty every day based on the law and the facts.”
Internal discussions about the Mueller probe?
Here’s an exchange with New York Democrat Jerrold Nadler that could come up again if evidence were to emerge to the contrary:
Nadler: “Did you discuss the (George) Papadopoulos question with the FBI?”
Sessions: “I have not had any discussions with Mr. Mueller or his team or the FBI concerning any factors with regard to this investigation.”
Nadler: “Nobody else at the FBI either?”
Nadler: “And at the Department of Justice?”
Nadler: “At the White House?”
Chill with the previous administration’s pot policy?
Sessions made pretty clear that there’s no crackdown coming on states that make marijuana legal for medicinal and/or recreational purposes:
“Our policy is the same, really, fundamentally, as the Holder-Lynch policy, which is that the federal law remains in effect and a state can legalize marijuana for its law enforcement purposes, but it still remains illegal with regard to federal purposes.”
Another qualified denial on the Trump team and Russia
Did Sessions relay his conversation with the Russian ambassador to Trump campaign ally and since-fired national security adviser Michael Flynn?
“I did meet once in my office with (now former Russian ambassador to the US Sergey) Kislyak and I do not recall and don’t believe I communicated any of that information to Mr. Flynn.”
Sessions and the women accusing Senate candidate Roy Moore of sexual abuse
Asked if he believes the women who made the allegations against Moore, Sessions said this:
“I have no reason to doubt these young women.”
Does Sessions love WikiLeaks?
During the campaign, candidate Trump said he “loved” the organization. Sessions was asked if he shared that sentiment:
“Um, I’m not a fan of WikiLeaks.”
On the diversity, or lack thereof, at his DOJ
Under questioning from Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Cedric Richmond, Sessions made this admission:
“I do not have a senior staff member at this time that’s an African-American.”
Republican demands special counsel to probe Clinton; Sessions pumps the brakes
This exchange between Sessions and Rep. Jim Jordan got loud. The Ohio Republican wants a second special counsel to focus on Clinton. Sessions didn’t seem too hot on the idea:
Jordan: “What’s it going to take to actually get a special counsel?”
Sessions: “It would take a factual basis that meets the standards of the appointment of a special counsel.”
Jordan: “Is that analysis going on right now?”
Sessions: “Well, it’s in the manual of the Department of Justice about what’s required. We have only had two. … And that’s the only thing I can tell you, Mr. Jordan. You can have your idea, but sometimes we have to study what the facts are and to evaluate whether it meets the standard that requires a special counsel.”
Jordan then brought up the dossier and a series of alleged misdeeds by the Democrats, but Sessions again pushed back:
Sessions: “And I would say: ‘Looks like’ is not enough basis to appoint a special counsel.”