Opening statement of Senate Intel Committee Vice Chairman Sen. Mark Warner at Jeff Sessions hearing

Below are Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner’s opening remarks at today’s questioning of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

mark warnerThank you, Mr. Chairman. We appreciate the Attorney General’s appearance on the heels of Mr. Comey’s revealing testimony last week.

I first want to express some concern with the process by which we are seeing the Attorney General today. It is my understanding that he was scheduled to testify in front of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees today. He cancelled those appearances to come here instead. While we appreciate his testimony before our committee, I believe I speak for my colleagues that he should also answer questions from members of those committees and the Judiciary Committee.

Mr. Attorney General, it is my hope that you will reschedule those appearances as soon as possible.

In addition, I want to say at the outset that we consider your appearance today as just the beginning of our interaction with you and your Department.

Mr. Attorney General, we had always expected to talk to you as part of our investigation. We believed it would be later in the process. We are glad to accommodate your request to speak to us today. But we also expect to have your commitment to cooperate with all future requests and to make yourself available as necessary to this Committee for our investigation.

Now, let me move to the subject of today’s discussion.

Let’s start with the campaign. You were an early and ardent supporter of Mr. Trump. In March, you were named as Chairman of the Trump campaign’s national security advisory committee. You were much more than a mere surrogate; you were a strategic advisor who helped shape much of the campaign’s national security strategy. No doubt you will have insight about some of the key Trump associates that we are seeking to hear from in the weeks ahead.

Questions have also been raised about some of your own interactions with Russian officials during the campaign.

During your confirmation hearing in January, you said, “…I did not have communications with the Russians.”

Senator Leahy later asked you in writing whether you had been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election. You answered with a definitive “No.”

Despite that, the fact is that you did indeed have interactions with Russian government officials during the course of the campaign.  In March, you acknowledged two meetings with the Russian Ambassador. Yet there has been some public reporting of a possible third meeting at the Mayflower Hotel on April 27th. I hope that today you will help clear up these discrepancies. We also expect that you will be willing to provide the Committee with any documents we would need to shed light on this issue, such as e-mails or calendars.

Then there is the topic of the firing of former FBI Director, Jim Comey. Last Thursday, we received testimony from Mr. Comey. Under oath, he outlined his very troubling interactions with the President, as well as the circumstances of his firing. A few disturbing points stood out.

First, Mr. Comey – who has decades of experience at the Department of Justice and at the FBI, serving under Presidents of both parties – was so unnerved by the actions of the President that he felt “compelled” to fully document every interaction they had. Mr. Comey sat where you’re sitting today and testified that he was concerned the President might lie about the nature of their meetings. That is a shocking statement from one of our nation’s top law enforcement officials.

We also heard that Director Comey took it as a direction from the President that he was to drop the FBI’s investigation into former National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn.

Finally, we heard from Mr. Comey that he believes he was fired over his handling of the Russia investigation. The President himself confirmed this in statements to the media. This is deeply troubling for all who believe in preserving the independence of the FBI.

We have a lot of work to do in order to follow up on these alarming disclosures.  Mr. Attorney General, your testimony today is an opportunity to begin the process of asking those questions.

For instance, you recused yourself from the Russia investigation. Yet you participated in the firing of Mr. Comey over his handling of that same investigation. We will want to ask you about how you view your recusal and whether you believe you have complied with it fully.

In addition, we heard from Mr. Comey last week that the President asked you to leave the Oval Office so he could speak one-on-one with Mr. Comey. This is very concerning. We will need to hear from you about how you viewed the President’s request and whether you believe it was appropriate.

We will also want to know if you are aware of any attempts by the President to enlist leaders of the intelligence community to undermine the Russia investigation.

Most importantly, our Committee will want to hear what you are doing to ensure that the Russians – or any other foreign adversaries – cannot attack our democratic process like this ever again. I am concerned that the President still does not recognize the severity of the threat. He does not acknowledge the unanimous conclusions of the U.S. intelligence community that Russia massively interfered in our election.

The threat that we face is real. And it is not limited to us. The recent events in France are a stark reminder that all western democracies must take steps to protect themselves. I believe the United States can be a leader in this effort, but it will require our Administration to get serious in this matter.

Finally, in the past several weeks, we’ve seen a concerning pattern of Administration officials refusing to answer public, unclassified questions about allegations that the President attempted to undermine the FBI’s investigation. We had a particularly challenging hearing last week. I agree fully with the Chairman, who told some of our witnesses at that hearing that it was not acceptable for them to come to Congress without an answer.

The American people deserve to know what is going on here.

Thank you, Mr. Attorney General.

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