Comey creates fresh headaches for two heavy hitters not named Trump

Key Points
  • James Comey's dramatic testimony creates fresh headaches for a current and former attorney general.
  • Comey declined to mention "facts" about Attorney General Jeff Sessions' recusal from the Russia investigation in an open hearing.
  • He also said he was "concerned" by a request former AG Loretta Lynch made related to the Hillary Clinton email investigation.

James Comey's explosive Thursday testimony raised questions about top government officials beyond just the president.

The former FBI director's comments about President Donald Trump drew the most attention, but his revelations about a current and former attorney general were also significant.

At the Senate hearing, Comey explained his decision not to inform Attorney General Jeff Sessions about what he understood as a request from Trump to "drop" the FBI investigation into former national security advisor Michael Flynn. Comey said the FBI expected the attorney general to recuse himself from that investigation.

In March, Sessions — a Trump campaign advisor — did just that.

We also were aware of facts that I can't discuss in an open setting that would make his continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic.
James Comey
ex-FBI director, on why he expected a Sessions recusal

On Thursday, Sen. Ron Wyden, D.-Ore., asked Comey to explain more about why he felt so sure that Sessions would recuse himself.

Comey said: "He was very close to and inevitably going to recuse himself for a variety of reasons. We also were aware of facts that I can't discuss in an open setting that would make his continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic."

It is not clear what those "facts" are. In a statement after the hearing, the Justice Department said that Sessions' participation in Trump's campaign was the only reason he recused himself.

Also on Thursday, Comey told senators in a closed session about a "possible third interaction" between Sessions and "Russian officials," according to NBC News. Sessions has acknowledged only two meetings.

The Justice Department has denied that a third meeting took place.

Obama's attorney general 

Comey also stirred fresh questions about the conduct of Sessions' predecessor as attorney general, Loretta Lynch.

The former FBI director said that Lynch asked him to refer to the Hillary Clinton email investigation as a "matter" — as opposed to an "investigation" — before a hearing in September.

Comey testified that he didn't resist the request because it "isn't a hill worth dying on" and because he expected media reports to "completely ignore it" and refer to it as an investigation anyway. Still, he said that Lynch's request "concerned" him because the language she suggested resembled the language the Clinton campaign itself was using.

A source familiar with Lynch's thinking defended her actions in a statement to NBC News:

"The AG told Director Comey that she had used the term 'matter' in response to press inquiries, in order to ensure that she neither confirmed nor denied the investigation, in accordance with longstanding Justice Department and FBI policy. She suggested that she and the director should be consistent in their language, and at the end of the meeting, she asked if everyone was comfortable with using the term 'matter.' No one, including the director, contested that view."

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