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Comey Testimony Reverberates Across Washington, D.C.


Back here in Washington, the long-awaited testimony from fired FBI Director James Comey may be over, but the reverberations are certainly not. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is scheduled to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee Tuesday. Sessions wants to respond to some of the questions Comey raised about his conduct. On the line to talk about all this is NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Hi, Carrie.


MARTIN: Jeff Sessions was supposed to be testifying this week about the Justice Department budget. Over the weekend, he announced a change. How come?

JOHNSON: Well, the attorney general says fired FBI Director James Comey said a lot of things about him last week to the Senate intelligence committee. Sessions wants a chance to respond - questions about whether the FBI was in possession of some facts about Sessions in Russia that would make it clear Sessions would have to recuse from that investigation.

But Comey wouldn't say exactly what in open session. Comey also complained, Rachel, that Sessions was not responding appropriately to his complaints that the president was leaning on the FBI director. Sessions just kind of shrugged and said, what am I going to do about that? And, finally, Comey raised some questions about why Sessions played a role in his firing last month if Sessions were truly hands-off on the Russia probe.

MARTIN: So what's the attorney general likely to say? How is he going to defend himself against these allegations?

JOHNSON: Well, the Justice Department says Jeff Sessions was not silent when Comey complained about Trump calling. DOJ says the attorney general reminded Comey about the DOJ policy. Only a few people at Justice in the White House should be in touch with each other. That's a little odd, though, since the White House was the one that needed reminding, not the FBI director.

And asked for the facts about Sessions and Russia, democratic senators have told NPR that seems to be a reference to a possible third meeting Sessions had with the Russian ambassador last year that was undisclosed. DOJ flatly denies there was any third meeting.

It says Sessions, along with other campaign officials, was at the Mayflower Hotel last year for an event. But there was no meeting with the Russians there. Sessions played a role in Comey's firing because of his leadership, not Russia.

MARTIN: Is this testimony going to be public?

JOHNSON: You know, there's a big question about that right now. DOJ says they think he will testify in closed session. Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee are not happy - other Democrats, too. Patrick Leahy of Vermont says the attorney general has an obligation to answer questions in public.

Leahy and Al Franken have raised questions about whether Sessions testified falsely to them earlier this year about his Russia connections. And Leahy on Twitter said, you can't run forever, talking about Sessions and the Russia probe.

MARTIN: All right. There's one more big story we have to address today. Legal news - a new lawsuit against the president by the governments in D.C. and Maryland. What can you tell us about this?

JOHNSON: Yeah. The attorneys general for Washington, D.C., and Maryland tell The Washington Post they're planning to sue the president for violating the emoluments clause of the Constitution, that language that says the president can't accept gifts from foreign governments, though state AGs say they're in a better position to sue than some private actors because the convention centers in their states are actually losing out to Trump hotels and Trump resorts. That gives them an injury, a harm to sue over. And they say part of their goal in this case is to get President Trump's tax returns out there.

MARTIN: NPR justice correspondent, Carrie Johnson. Thank you so much, Carrie.

JOHNSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.