A February meeting between President Donald Trump and ousted FBI Director James Comey has turned into an high-stakes he-said-he-said, and detractors of the president are itching for proof that President Trump tried to interfere in the investigation of ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
During a second highly publicized Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in a matter of days on Tuesday, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio tried to pry specifics of that meeting from Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Rubio got Sessions to confirm details of that meeting on Tuesday, although the attorney general and Trump ally was not in the room and therefore could not corroborate whether Trump or Comey is telling the truth about the details of the conversation.
“I want to go back to February 14 and close the loop on the details,” Rubio said. “Do you remember lingering? Do you remember feeling that you needed to stay?”
Never miss a local story.
“I do recall being one of the last ones to leave,” Sessions said. “I don’t recall how that occurred.”
Comey said during his testimony last week that during the one-on-one encounter in February, Trump urged him to stop the investigation into ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Comey recalled Trump saying in the meeting. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”
Flynn was fired by Trump after he lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his contact with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Detractors of the president argue the Feb. 14 meeting, if it happened the way Comey testified, amounts to an obstruction of justice in the FBI’s Russia investigation and would be grounds to begin impeachment proceedings.
Rubio appeared to confirm another detail of the February meeting through his questioning — that Comey approached Sessions the day after the meeting to say that he should no longer be alone with the president.
“You saw him after that, he characterized it as he went up to you and said, ‘Never leave me alone with the president again, it’s not appropriate,’” Rubio said, adding that Sessions shrugged when Comey brought it up to Sessions.
“I think I described it more completely, correctly,” Sessions said. “He expressed concern to me about that private conversation. I agreed with him, essentially, that there are rules on private conversations with the president but there’s not a prohibition on a private conversation with the president.”
The key missing detail of the exchange between Comey and Trump: what was actually said during the February conversation.
Trump has been coy as to whether tapes exist of that conversation, saying during a press conference on Friday that “I’ll tell you about it in a very short period of time.”
“Lordy, I hope there are tapes,” Comey testified last week.
Sessions, who failed to disclose multiple meetings with the Russian ambassador during his confirmation process, was testifying on Capitol Hill as part of the ongoing investigation into Russia’s influence on the 2016 election.
He recused himself from the Russia investigation after the meetings with the Russian ambassador were publicized in the news media. Sessions continued to argue on Tuesday that his recusal was due to his “principal adviser” role in Trump’s campaign and not his contact with Russian officials.
During his testimony, Sessions struck a defiant tone against charges from Democrats that he was influenced by the Russians during the presidential campaign.
“The suggestion that I participated in any collusion that I was aware of, any collusion with the Russian government to hurt this country which I have served with honor for 35 years, or to undermine the integrity of our democratic process is an appalling and detestable lie,” Sessions said.