The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin tries to salvage something for the anti-Trump cause from Jeff Sessions’ testimony yesterday. Grasping at straws, she characterizes as “exceptionally weak,” Sessions’ explanation of why his recusal from the Russia investigation didn’t preclude him from participating in the decision to fire the FBI director, James Comey.
Sessions’ explanation of why he wasn’t precluded from involvement in the Comey firing is straightforward. In his written testimony, he stated:
The scope of my recusal, however, does not and cannot interfere with my ability to oversee the Department of Justice, including the FBI, which has an $8 billion budget and 35,000 employees. I presented to the President my concerns, and those of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, about the ongoing leadership issues at the FBI as stated in my letter recommending the removal of Mr. Comey along with the Deputy Attorney General’s memorandum, which have been released publicly by the White House. It is a clear statement of my views.
It is absurd, frankly, to suggest that a recusal from a single specific investigation would render an Attorney General unable to manage the leadership of the various Department of Justice law enforcement components that conduct thousands of investigations.
The FBI is a critical arm of the Justice Department. Sessions is in charge of managing the Justice Department. Thus, there is nothing “exceptionally weak” about his claim that the recusal from the Russia investigation doesn’t preclude him from weighing in on whether the FBI director is good enough at his job to retain it.
If Sessions had concluded that Comey isn’t good enough at this job because of the way he was handling the Russia investigation, that might create an argument that Sessions violated the terms of the recusal. But Sessions’ letter to President Trump recommending the firing of Comey isn’t based on the Russia investigation. Rather, it is based on the views of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — views founded not on “Russia,” but rather on Comey’s handling of the Clinton email investigation and his subsequent stubborn refusal (so characteristic of the man) to accept that he made mistakes.
Rubin points out that Trump based the firing decision, not on the reasons given by Rosenstein and Sessions, but on the Russia investigation. But that wasn’t Sessions’ basis for the recommendation. Sessions, in incorporating Rosenstein’s reasons, based his recommendation on matters unrelated to “Russia.”
Others have argued that recommending Comey’s discharge based on his handling of the email investigation would itself violate the terms of the recusal because the email investigation was part and parcel of the 2016 presidential campaign. This desperate argument cannot be squared with the “terms” of the recusal.
When he recused himself, Sessions said:
During the course of the last several weeks, I have met with the relevant senior career Department officials to discuss whether I should recuse myself from any matters arising from the campaigns for President of the United States.
Having concluded those meetings today, I have decided to recuse myself from any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States.
As far as we know, there is no existing investigation of the Clinton email scandal. Comey closed that investigation last Fall. Thus, Sessions did not violate the terms of his recusal by recommending to Trump that the FBI director be fired based on the reasons stated in the Rosenstein memo.
There is nothing “exceptionally weak” about Sessions’ explanation of the scope of his recusal. His recusal did not preclude him from overseeing the FBI and informing the president about how its director was performing, at least on matters unrelated to the Russia investigation. If Trump-haters like Rubin weren’t so obsessed with alleged Trump “collusion” with Russia — for which there is no evidence — they might understand this.