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FILE - In this March 15, 2017, file photo, Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks to law enforcement officers in Richmond, Va. Sessions favors decades-old drug and crime-fighting strategies, even as some people involved in criminal justice during that time have come to believe they went too far, for too long. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

Sessions Is Likely to Be Grilled on Reports of Meeting With Russian Envoy

(PhatzNewsRoom / NYT)   —-   WASHINGTON — In the days since the dramatic congressional testimony last week by James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, numerous questions have swirled about the role that Attorney General Jeff Sessions played in Mr. Comey’s firing, as well as how much Mr. Sessions may be enmeshed in the bureau’s Russia investigation.

Senators will have the opportunity to confront Mr. Sessions about these topics on Tuesday, when the attorney general appears before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Members of the committee are expected to press Mr. Sessions about what he did — and did not do — after a private Oval Office meeting in February when President Trump reportedly asked Mr. Comey to end the F.B.I.’s investigation into Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser.

Mr. Sessions will almost certainly also be grilled on vague — and unsubstantiated — reports that he had a secret meeting with the Russian ambassador last year at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington. Mr. Sessions is expected to deny that the meeting took place.

Mr. Sessions initially told Congress that he had no contacts with Russian officials last year, but in March he was forced to acknowledge meeting the ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, on two occasions. A third meeting could prove devastating for the attorney general, who reportedly has already offered to resign.

The origin of the Mayflower story can be traced, according to several American officials, to raw intelligence picked up by American spy agencies last year that is now held at C.I.A. headquarters in Virginia. The intelligence appears to be based on intercepts of Mr. Kislyak discussing a private meeting he had with Mr. Sessions at a Trump campaign event last April at the luxury hotel.

Lawmakers have reviewed the intelligence — which remains classified — as part of the congressional investigations into Russia’s attempts to disrupt last year’s presidential election. Several news outlets have reported that Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and now a senior White House adviser, may have also attended the meeting.

But the intelligence has not been corroborated, several officials said. Unlike finished intelligence reports, which include assessments by government analysts about the credibility of the information, raw intelligence is merely transcripts of intercepted phone calls or information from human sources. Such information is generally treated skeptically until it can be confirmed by multiple sources.

Lawmakers from the House and Senate Intelligence Committees have read both finished and raw intelligence as part of their investigations.

“Some of it’s very compelling, and some of its import is unclear to me,” said Representative Jackie Speier, a California Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

The Justice Department and the White House have been deluged by questions about the alleged meeting at the Mayflower. Sarah Isgur Flores, a department spokeswoman, said she had spoken with Mr. Sessions and his former aides, scoured his schedules and reviewed a video of the campaign event for any sign that Mr. Sessions met with Mr. Kislyak, and found nothing.

“I’ve watched that video so many times,” Ms. Flores said.

In his testimony last week, Mr. Comey spoke vaguely about unspecified classified information that could further embroil Mr. Sessions in the Russia investigation. After a closed-door session with Mr. Comey after the public testimony, senators fueled speculation about a Mayflower meeting.

“There’s one meeting we don’t know about and people would like to know about it,” said Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia.

During that hearing, Mr. Comey said Mr. Trump encouraged him in a private Oval Office meeting on Feb. 14 to end an F.B.I. investigation into Mr. Flynn, and repeatedly pressed him to publicly announce that the F.B.I. was not investigating him personally.

Mr. Sessions, who recused himself from the Justice Department’s investigation into Russia’s attempts to disrupt last year’s presidential election, is likely to be asked why he was involved in the decision to fire Mr. Comey last month.

“If, as the president said, I was fired because of the Russia investigation, why was the attorney general involved in that chain?” Mr. Comey said last week.

If the White House asserts executive privilege, Mr. Sessions would not testify about any conversations he had with the president before Mr. Comey was fired. The Justice Department, however, has said that Mr. Sessions recused himself only because of his work with the campaign, and that Mr. Comey was fired over “concerns about the effectiveness of his leadership,” not because of the Russia investigation.

Mr. Trump has undercut this argument, saying publicly that he was thinking about the Russia investigation when he fired Mr. Comey. That comment raised questions about whether the White House used Mr. Sessions and his deputy to create a pretense for firing Mr. Comey.

Senators are likely to ask about a conversation Mr. Comey said he had with Mr. Sessions on Feb. 15, the day after the Oval Office meeting between Mr. Comey and Mr. Trump. During that discussion, Mr. Comey said in testimony, he asked Mr. Sessions that he never again be left alone with the president. Mr. Comey said Mr. Sessions “did not reply.”

The Justice Department has denied that account. “He responded to this comment by saying that the F.B.I. and Department of Justice needed to be careful about following appropriate policies regarding contacts with the White House,” the department said in a lengthy statement circulated after Mr. Comey’s testimony.

Mr. Sessions was the first senator to endorse Mr. Trump, and was a key architect of the president’s policies on immigration and law enforcement. But Mr. Trump has soured on Mr. Sessions in recent weeks, blaming him for problems including the blowback from Mr. Comey’s firing and the troubled rollout of the president’s ban on travel from some predominantly Muslim countries.

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