Rep. Deutch to AG Sessions: Not Another Saturday Night Massacre
During a House Judiciary Committee hearing with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Congressman Ted Deutch (FL-22), a senior member of the committee, drilled the Attorney General with questions about the President's ability to obstruct justice, fire the special prosecutor, and pardon campaign and administration officials.
"When you started your testimony today, you said that there’s nothing more important than advancing the rule of law. And when you answer the way you have, it suggests that the rule of law is crumbling at our feet."
"...And what you’ve told us today, in just this exchange, what we should all be concerned about is another Saturday Night Massacre, if you can’t tell us that the President shouldn’t fire, or can’t fire, the special counsel and everyone who works for him. We should be worried if you’re telling us that the President may be able to pardon in advance all of those who are being investigated. We should be worried about the pursuit of the rule of law."
Video of Congressman Deutch's questions can be viewed by clicking the image . A transcript of his questions is below.
DEUTCH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Attorney General Sessions, thanks for being here.
General Sessions, who do you work for? Do you work for the American people, or do you work for the President of the United States?
SESSIONS: Well I’m a member of the Executive Branch and I work for the American people.
DEUTCH: And it’s with that in mind, your work on behalf of the American people, that I want to ask you some questions about facts and public media reports.
On February 14th, the President asked the FBI Director about the Flynn investigation, and I quote, he said, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”
Then on May 9th, the President fired Comey. On May 11th, he went on television and announced that he fired Comey because of, and I quote again, “the Russia thing with Trump and Russia.”
General Sessions, do you think it would be reasonable for the members of this committee to conclude that the President, by first interfering in one investigation and then interfering in an investigation into himself, committed obstruction of justice?
SESSIONS: I don’t believe that’s a fair conclusion. But it’s a matter, I guess, that would be in the breast of the special counsel.
DEUTCH: And the obstruction of justice being any, among other definitions, the most popular one, in statute any communication that “endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede, the due administration of justice.” That’s exactly what the President did in both of those cases. And in spite of - moving on to the special counsel you brought up – in spite of bipartisan efforts to protect the special counsel, Mr. Mueller, the Republican leadership in this committee have refused to take action to ensure that he’s protected.
Do you believe that the President has the legal authority to fire Special Counsel Mueller?
SESSIONS: I’m not able to express an opinion on that.
DEUTCH: Can he fire members of the special counsel’s team?
SESSIONS: I’m not able to answer that.
DEUTCH: General Sessions, do you believe that the President should have the authority to block investigations into his own campaign?
SESSIONS: Investigations have to be conducted by the appropriate law enforcement officers without fear or favor, without politics or bias.
DEUTCH: Right, and without fear of being dismissed by the President in order to block that investigation. Because again, that would certainly appear to represent obstruction of justice. And when you fail to acknowledge that, it is essentially a green light to the President to go ahead and do that.
I wanted to talk about the Special Counsel’s investigation. Thus far there have been some indictments, there’s a guilty plea. Can you tell me, in your opinion: does the President have the power to pardon George Papadopoulos?
SESSIONS: It would be premature for me to comment on that, I believe.
SESSIONS: The President has the power to pardon, there’s no doubt about that.
DEUTCH: Does he have the power to pardon Paul Manafort and Rick Gates ahead of a trial and a conviction?
SESSIONS: I would – I’m not able to comment on that, I haven’t researched that question. I think it’s maybe settled law, but I’m not -
DEUTCH: What do you think the settled law is?
SESSIONS: I don’t know.
DEUTCH: And does he have the power to pardon Michael Flynn? Or any other member of the Trump Campaign?
Let me ask you this: does the President have the power to pardon his own family members? Could the President today pardon Donald Trump, Jr. for, among other things, being in contact with WikiLeaks regarding these emails?
Can he make those pardons today, before there’s anything further that comes from the Special Counsel’s investigation?
SESSIONS: I would not be able to answer that at this moment with any authority.
DEUTCH: General Sessions, you started by telling us that you are the American people’s lawyer. Now, you’re not recused from giving us answers on these. You’re not comfortable giving us answers on these.
But here’s the problem that we have: you said, when you started your testimony today, that there’s nothing more important than advancing the rule of law. And when you answer the way you have, it suggests that the rule of law is crumbling at our feet. You took an oath to uphold the Constitution. We took an oath to uphold the Constitution.
And while members of this committee in the majority may choose to abdicate their responsibility with regard to these very important matters, you cannot. And what you’ve told us today, in just this exchange, what we should all be concerned about is another Saturday Night Massacre, if you can’t tell us that the President shouldn’t fire, or can’t fire, the special counsel and everyone who works for him. We should be worried if you’re telling us that the President may be able to pardon in advance all of those who are being investigated. We should be worried about the pursuit of the rule of law.