AG Sessions to face House panel in closed-door hearing

AG Sessions to face House panel in closed-door hearing
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Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsOvernight Health Care: Thousands more migrant children may have been separated | Senate rejects bill to permanently ban federal funds for abortion | Women's March to lobby for 'Medicare for All' Acting AG Whitaker's wife defends him in lengthy email to journalist Watchdog: Thousands more migrant children separated from parents than previously known MORE will appear before the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday as part of its sprawling investigation into Russia’s election interference, a high-profile interview that comes even as Republicans say the probe is winding down.

The committee is also set to interview Erik Prince, the military contractor who The Washington Post reported attended a secret meeting in the Seychelles in January as part of an apparent effort to establish a back-channel line of communication between Moscow and then-President-elect Trump.

Sessions, a Trump campaign adviser, will face two sharply divergent lines of questioning, as partisan tensions have frayed even further on the embattled committee and it has begun to appear more and more likely that the panel will issue two reports at the end of its investigation.

Democrats will be focused on what Sessions knew about the contacts that lower-level campaign aides — like George Papadopoulos — had with Russians during the presidential race.

A plea deal made public in special counsel Robert Mueller’s federal investigation into Russia’s election meddling showed that the young national security adviser tried repeatedly to negotiate a meeting between Trump, his campaign officials and individuals whom he believed to be “members of President Putin’s office.”

“I’m also concerned about the degree to which the wall between the White House and the Justice Department is being broken down,” Inteligence Committee ranking member Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffDems revive impeachment talk after latest Cohen bombshell Giuliani calls latest Cohen allegations 'categorically false' Sen. Murray says Washington behavior reminds her of former preschool students MORE (D-Calif.) added.

Republicans, meanwhile, are poised to question the former Alabama senator on what they say is stonewalling from the Department of Justice on committee requests for information.

“It doesn’t make much sense to me why we’re having such trouble getting information from an administration that’s aligned with us,” said Rep. Chris StewartChristopher (Chris) Douglas StewartDem leaders avert censure vote against Steve King House vote fails to quell storm surrounding Steve King House passes resolution condemning white nationalism MORE (R-Utah). “That’s kind of my start point.”

Chairman Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesBlack Caucus sees power grow with new Democratic majority Nunes's 2018 Dem challenger launches voting rights group Democrats: Concentrate on defeating, not impeaching MORE (R-Calif.) for months has wrangled with the Justice Department over a pair of subpoenas demanding documents related to a controversial dossier linking President Trump to Russia.

The interview, which will take place behind closed doors, is the second time the beleaguered attorney general will face House lawmakers in less than a month. He faced a sharp grilling from both parties in a public appearance before the Judiciary Committee two weeks ago.

In that appearance, Sessions fiercely defended himself against charges that he lied to senators at a pair of hearings earlier this year when he said he had no knowledge of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials over the course of the election.

He also said that reports about a meeting last year with Papadopoulos jogged his memory of the interaction, but that he does not remember specific details besides warning him that he does not “represent the campaign with the Russian government, or any other foreign government.”

Democrats hope they will glean further details in a classified setting on Thursday.

“There are potential opportunities with a sitting administration official with security clearances to get into matters that we may not have been able to get into with other witnesses, so there may be areas of questioning that we can do that were not possible to do publicly,” Schiff said.

Prince, whose sister is Education Secretary Betsy DeVosElizabeth (Betsy) Dee DeVosDeVos recovering from broken pelvis, hip socket after bicycle accident Student veterans deserve better than the DeVos agenda Changes to Title IX enforcement are common sense MORE, will likely be pressed on the reported meeting in the Seychelles, which allegedly occurred less than two weeks before the inauguration.

According to The Washingotn Post, the United Arab Emirates brokered the meeting “in part” to explore whether Russia might be persuaded to back away from its relationship with Iran and Syria.

Prince has acknowledged that he traveled to the Seychelles and that he met with a Russian government official while there — but he denies that he was acting on behalf of the Trump presidency.

“We talked about the Russian business climate, where we thought oil was headed price-wise and how much he thought Russia would like to do business in America,” Prince told the New York Observer, which is owned by the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

“It had nothing to do with national security, the Trump campaign or anything else.”

But according to The Washington Post, the rendezvous caught the eye of federal investigators as part of their broader probe into Russian meddling in the U.S. election.

The back-to-back interviews come as Republicans have become increasingly impatient to wrap up the panel’s investigation — something committee Democrats say is premature.

Rep. Mike ConawayKenneth (Mike) Michael ConawayConservative leader Meadows condemns King comments 'in strongest sense' GOP takes victory lap around Pelosi after passing border wall bill House Intel votes to release Roger Stone transcript to Mueller MORE (R-Texas), who is leading the investigation following Nunes’s recusal in April, has said that he hopes to complete the probe by February. Other GOP members, claiming they have seen no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, see no point in dragging the investigation out.

Democrats say the panel has much more to do and have complained that the majority is not following investigative best practices by demanding that witnesses turn over relevant documents prior to interviewing with the committee.

“It’s my concern with a number of the interviews that we have coming up this month that we don’t have the documents yet,” Schiff said.

But while Sessions may face sharp questions from Republicans on document production — and possibly the terms of his own recusal from the federal Russia investigation, which has frustrated conservatives who believe it was unnecessary — he is likely to get some cover on the question of coordination between the campaign and Moscow.

“There isn’t much new, if you’re talking about Russia-specific collusion — we’ve been over that ad nauseum,” Stewart said. “There’s nothing that hasn’t been asked, in my opinion, and I think that’s generally shared.”