WASHINGTON — Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators interviewed Attorney General Jeff Sessions “for hours” last week as part of their probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, according to a Justice Department spokeswoman.
Sessions is the first known member of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet to be interviewed, and his rank within the administration may indicate that Mueller is zeroing in on top officials as he enters the more advanced stages of the investigation.
AG Sessions was interviewed by Special Counsel
A Justice Department official said the interview took place at the special counsel’s office and that Sessions’ lawyer, Chuck Cooper, also attended.
Trump has repeatedly said there was no collusion between his campaign and the Russian government in the 2016 election, and his lawyers have predicted that the federal probe will soon conclude, leaving the president free of any charges of wrongdoing.
“Out of respect for the special and his process,” said White House attorney Ty Cobb, “and because of the privacy obligations we owe to potential or actual witnesses, the White House does not comment on witness appearances before the special counsel.”
The New York Times was the first to report on the interview between Sessions and Mueller’s team, and it is unknown what Sessions was asked or how he responded.
The roles Sessions has played within the Trump campaign and the administration make him of prime interest to Mueller, who is probing not just possible collusion but also efforts by the president to obstruct the investigation. As a senior member of the Trump campaign, Sessions met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak and sat in on a meeting where George Papadopoulos presented a plan to set up high-level talks with Russia.
Papadopoulos, a previously little-known figure in the Trump campaign, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in October. Testifying before Congress in November, Sessions said he did not initially recall the meeting with Papadopoulos until media reports jogged his memory. He said he pushed back on the idea of setting up a meeting between then-candidate Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Although the U.S. attorney general would usually have jurisdiction over a federal probe, Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation in March after media reports emerged about his meetings with Kislyak. That recusal put Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in charge, who later appointed Mueller as special counsel. That chain of events has strained the relationship between Sessions and Trump, with the president blaming his attorney general for Mueller’s appointment in private and lashing out on him via Twitter.
Despite the criticism, Sessions has remained loyal to Trump.