Sessions to testify publicly to Senate Intel Committee

Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) SessionsFBI opens tip line requesting information on Charlottesville rally Sessions rails against Chicago during visit to Miami DOJ warrant of Trump resistance site triggers alarm MORE will appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee for an open hearing Tuesday, the committee has announced. 

Sessions requested that the hearing be public, a Justice Department spokesperson said in a statement.

"The Attorney General has requested that this hearing be public. He believes it is important for the American people to hear the truth directly from him and looks forward to answering the committee's questions tomorrow," the statement read. 

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Sessions’s testimony comes just days after fired FBI Director James Comey told lawmakers that he knew details that made Sessions's involvement in the bureau's Russia probe "problematic." 

The comments — including a reported third meeting between Sessions and a top Russian official — have put the spotlight squarely on Sessions, Trump's first supporter in the Senate.

Sessions was originally scheduled to testify before a pair of Senate and House Appropriations subcommittees this week, but is now sending a deputy in his place so he can address Comey's Thursday testimony related to his firing. 

Democrats will be keen to press Sessions on his role in Comey's dismissal, which many in the party are characterizing as part of an attempt by the president to impede the investigation into his campaign's ties to Russia. 

The president accepted a recommendation from Sessions and deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein to fire Comey, the White House said in its initial explanation. 

The president has since said he was thinking of the Russia investigation when he made the decision and that he was planning to fire Comey regardless of the DOJ recommendation. 

Rosenstein, not Sessions, penned the formal rationale for the firing — but the mere connection of his name to the dismissal suggests a violation of his recusal, Democrats say. 

"The Senate and the American people deserve to know exactly what involvement with the Russia investigation he had before his recusal, what safeguards are in place to prevent his meddling, and why he felt it was appropriate to recommend the firing of Director Comey when he was leading that investigation," Senate Minority Leader Chuck SchumerCharles SchumerDemocrats urge Trump to condemn Charlottesville violence Melania Trump on Charlottesville protests: 'No good comes from violence' It's time for McConnell to fight with Trump instead of against him MORE (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.

“Recommending Director Comey’s firing would seem to be a violation of his recusal, and Attorney General Sessions needs to answer for that."

The attorney general has recused himself from the federal investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. election — now in the hands of special counsel Bob Mueller — a move Comey said he had anticipated as early as February. 

Sessions's recusal in March came after reports that he didn’t inform lawmakers of a meeting with the Russian ambassador when questioned about such contacts under oath.

“We were aware of facts I can’t discuss in an open setting that would make his continued involvement in a Russia investigation problematic,” Comey said Thursday.

Comey reportedly told lawmakers behind closed doors that one of those facts included another unreported meeting between Sessions and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyac. 

Sessions has, at this point, disclosed two contacts with Kislyac before the presidential election, neither of which he revealed during his Senate confirmation hearing in January. The Justice Department has said that Sessions held the meetings in his capacity as a senator.

The Justice Department has contradicted other elements of Comey's dramatic testimony. 

In his written statement detailing his interactions with President Trump, Comey said that he had "implored" the attorney general to prevent future one-on-one contact between himself and the president. 

"I told the AG that what had just happened — him being asked to leave while the FBI Director, who reports to the AG, remained behind — was inappropriate and should never happen," Comey said in in his written statement.

Sessions, Comey claimed in his written statement and in public testimony, did not reply. 

But the Justice Department, in its statement, described the encounter differently, arguing that “the Attorney General was not silent; he responded to this comment by saying that the FBI and Department of Justice needed to be careful about following appropriate policies regarding contacts with the White House.”

Sessions's appearance before the Intelligence Committee is almost certain to stroke frustrations in the Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Justice Department and has been campaigning for Comey to appear before their panel. 

- Updated at 12:03 p.m.