10.11.17

Senators Expect Sessions to Answer Questions on Conversations with Trump

‘We expect that when you appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on October 18th, you will have determined whether the president will invoke executive privilege’

Washington, DC – When Attorney General Jeff Sessions comes before the Senate Judiciary Committee next week, members expect him to answer the questions he dodged earlier this year regarding his conversations with President Donald Trump.  Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Al Franken (D-MN), Chris Coons (D-DE), and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) wrote to Sessions today regarding his non-responses in a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in June.  During the hearing, Sessions claimed it would be “inappropriate” for him to discuss the conversations because the President may choose to exert executive privilege over them later.  Sessions and the President should have determined what information is privileged in the months since Sessions testified, the Senators write, and answer fully Judiciary Committee members’ questions.

“We expect that when you appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on October 18th, you will have determined whether the president will invoke executive privilege as to specific topics and will be prepared to answer completely all questions in those areas on which he has not,” write the Senators. 

Full text of the letter is below.  A PDF copy is available here.

October 11, 2017

The Honorable Jeff Sessions

Attorney General

Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Ave, NW

Washington, D.C. 20530

Dear Attorney General Sessions:

In light of your upcoming appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, we write to express our expectation that you will answer Members’ questions fully and truthfully.  With respect to potential assertions of executive privilege on behalf of the president, we wish to put you on notice that any reasonable period of abeyance on many of the issues about which you will be asked has long elapsed.

In response to numerous questions (whose responses would not have been classified) at a public hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on June 13, 2017, you cited “longstanding Department of Justice practice” and your “duty to protect confidential communications” with the president, and informed the Committee that you were “protecting the right of the president to assert [executive privilege] if he chooses.”

Following your testimony, the Department of Justice told the media that “declining to answer questions at a congressional hearing about confidential conversations with the president is a long-standing executive-branch-wide practice,” and that “the basis for this historical practice is laid out” in two 1982 memoranda.  One memorandum focuses on Congress’s broad power of inquiry to expose corruption in the executive branch, emphasizing the extensive limits on executive privilege, and does not provide any support for your assertion of a right not to answer.  The other sets forth a formal procedure through which the Attorney General may temporarily hold off inquiries that raise “substantial questions of executive privilege” while the president decides whether to claim privilege.  In order to invoke the procedure outlined in the memorandum, however, the Attorney General must expressly request that Congress hold its requests “in abeyance” while the president makes his privilege determination. 

We expect that when you appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on October 18th, you will have determined whether the president will invoke executive privilege as to specific topics and will be prepared to answer completely all questions in those areas on which he has not.  As to the former category, we will expect you to provide the Committee with a list of issues over which the privilege has affirmatively been asserted.  

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