Avoiding 'Gut Punch' to Transparency, Jeff Sessions to Testify in Public
"Democracy shouldn't take place behind closed doors," says the ACLU
Update: The Senate Intelligence Committee said Monday morning that Attorney General Jeff Sessions' testimony on Tuesday before the committee will be public.
According to the Washington Post:
Comey said last week that the bureau had information about Sessions — before he recused himself from overseeing the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election — that would have made it “problematic” for him to be involved in the probe. The former director did not elaborate in public on the nature of the information.
Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said Sessions requested that the committee hearing be public.
“He believes it is important for the American people to hear the truth directly from him and looks forward to answering the committee’s questions tomorrow,” Flores said.
The hearing will be held Tuesday at 2:30 p.m.
Alongside Democratic lawmakers, advocates of democracy and transparency are crying foul over indications that Attorney General Jeff Sessions' scheduled testimony before a congressional panel on Tuesday will be shielded from the public by being conducted behind closed doors.
"There is absolutely no reason why the hearing room doors should be shut, cameras turned off, and all American citizens left in the dark when Sessions testifies."
—Christopher Anders, ACLUAlthough it remains unclear whether the Senate Intelligence Committee will allow any portion of Sessions' testimony to be held in open session, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) submitted a letter to the committee's leadership urging them to do so.
"I urge that the Committee hold a hearing with the Attorney General in the open so that the American people can hear for themselves what he has to say with regard to connections to the Russians and the President's abuse of power," his letter stated. Wyden said the public's opportunity to watch public testimony last week by James Comey, the former FBI director who was fired by President Donald Trump earlier this year, "increased Americans' confidence" in the ability of Congress to conduct a full and fair investigation into allegations of Russian interference in last year's election and what role, if any, members of Trump's campaign may have played in such efforts.
"These matters," Wyden's letter continued, "which are directly related to threats to our democratic institutions, are of the utmost public interest. I believe we owe the American people transparency."
Amid reports that the Sessions hearing would possibly be closed, the American Civil Liberties Union put out a statement arguing that barring public access to the hearing would be "a gut punch to the millions of Americans committed to an open and participatory democracy."
According to Christopher Anders, the group's deputy director, "There is absolutely no reason why the hearing room doors should be shut, cameras turned off, and all American citizens left in the dark when Sessions testifies. Democracy shouldn't take place behind closed doors. More than 20 million people watched Comey's testimony last week, and they should not be blocked from participating in democracy this week."
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) appeared on CBS's "Face the Nation" on Sunday and said there's no good reason why at least part of Sessions' testimony couldn't be public. In addition to being put under oath, Schumer said the hearing should be public. "There's very little that's classified. Anything's that's classified, they can do in a separate classified briefing," Schumer said.
There are serious questions Sessions should be asked, Schumer continued. "First, did he interfere with the Russian investigation before he recused himself? Second, what safeguards are there now so that he doesn't interfere? Third, it says he was involved in the firing of Comey. And the President said Comey was fired because of Russia. How does that fit in with his recusal? It doesn't seem to stand up well to me. And four, if he's been involved in the selection of the new FBI director. Did he talk about the Russian investigation with him? All those are important questions. I hope they'll be asked."
Watch Schumer's full interview: