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Jeff Sessions under spotlight at Senate Intelligence Committee

Jeff Sessions to testify
Attorney General Jeff Sessions to testify on Russia probe 07:45

All eyes will be on Attorney General Jeff Sessions as he testifies in public Tuesday to address issues related to former FBI Director James Comey and the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

Sessions testifies after Comey appearance

Sessions, who served in the Senate representing Alabama, will testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. ET. He was originally scheduled to testify on President Trump's budget before the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, but now Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will take his place. The Justice Department's public affairs division confirmed Monday that Sessions would speak in an open session after some speculation that he might testify in a closed hearing.

"The Attorney General has requested that this 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," the Justice Department said.

What info can Attorney General Jeff Sessions provide on the Russia investigation? 04:57

Sessions' appearance comes less than a week after Comey testified before the same panel Thursday for the first time before Congress since Mr. Trump fired him as FBI director on May 9. Comey reportedly told lawmakers in the closed session following the open hearing that Sessions had a third undisclosed discussion with a senior Russian diplomat last year. It was only previously known that Sessions had two meetings with Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak. He will, therefore, likely face questions about each individual meeting or phone call with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign and after the election.

Sessions last testified before Congress in his confirmation hearing in January.

"I didn't have-- did not have communications with the Russians," he said then. However, since then, he has acknowledged meeting with Russia's ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, in 2016.

"Two meetings, one very brief after a speech," Sessions said.

The attorney general will also likely be asked about the conversation revealed by Comey in which he told Sessions never to leave him alone again with the president, following the February 14 meeting in the Oval Office in which Mr. Trump asked everyone but Comey to leave the room, including Vice President Mike Pence and Sessions. During that meeting, Comey said that the president asked him to end the FBI's investigation into former National Security Adviser Lt.-Gen. Michael Flynn (ret.).

He may also be asked about the scope of his involvement in Comey's dismissal, given his decision to recuse himself from the Russia probe. He said at the time, "I should not be involved investigating a campaign I had a role in."

Asked if it was appropriate for Sessions to have been involved in the decision to fire him, Comey said last Thursday, "That's something I can't answer, sitting here. It a reasonable question, but that would depend on a lot of things I don't know, like what did he know, what was he told, did he realize that the president was doing it because of the Russia investigation -- things like that. I just don't know the answer." The stated reason initially given by the White House for Comey's dismissal was his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's email server. However, in the days after Comey was fired, Mr. Trump said that the Russia investigation was on his mind when he decided to terminate Comey.

Cabinet members testify on Trump's budget

Sessions won't be the only Cabinet member testifying before Congress this week. Other witnesses include Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe is also set to testify. All of them are scheduled to discuss Mr. Trump's 2018 budget proposal, even though lawmakers, including Republicans, declared the blueprint "dead on arrival" when it was unveiled in May.

Health care progress?

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, has signaled that the upper chamber may be closing in on a Republican health care plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. He told reporters last week that GOP lawmakers were getting closer to bringing legislation to the floor, but he declined to set any type of timeline for the legislation. McConnell has eyed July 4 as a possible deadline to get it done.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, told CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday that "the House bill is dead in the Senate" and that the Senate is divided over Medicaid expansion states, non-Medicaid expansion states and he said "the proper role of government."

"Mitch is going to bring this together. It's going to be tough. My advice is, if we can't replace Obamacare by ourselves, to go to the Democrats and say this -- 10 percent of the sick people in this country drive 90 percent of the costs for all of us," Graham said. "Let's take those 10 percent of really sick people, put them in a federal managed care system, so they will get better outcomes, and save the private sector market, if we can't do this by ourselves."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, meanwhile, told "Face the Nation" that if the Senate were to repeal and replace Obamacare without the ability to propose amendments or without hearings, then "it would be one of the most outrageous examples of legislative malpractice in decades." McConnell invoked a rule that fast-tracks the bill, enabling the Senate to skip hearings and bypass amendments to move the bill through the Senate more quickly.

Iran sanctions on the ballistic missile program

The Senate is expected to vote on bipartisan legislation that would expand U.S. sanctions against Iran's ballistic missile program and also target its support for terrorism, human rights violations and transfers of conventional weapons.

Lawmakers are discussing the possibility of attaching tougher U.S. sanctions on Russia to the measure. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is lobbying for two of his chief bills to be included in the language. The other proposal under consideration is a proposal from Sens. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.

Cardin introduced one of the bills with Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which would impose sanctions and visa bans on people connected to hostile Russian cyber intrusions, impose sanctions on parts of the Russian economy and bans on those responsible for human rights abuses in any territory controlled by Russia. It also would mandate a report by the secretary of state detailing media outlets controlled and funded by the Kremlin, among other things. Another bill introduced with a bipartisan group of senators would provide congressional oversight of any decision to relieve U.S. sanctions on Russia.

The Crapo-Brown proposal would strengthen existing sanctions against Russia, toughening their effect on Russian energy projects and on debt financing. It would impose sanctions on corrupt Russian actors, people involved in human rights abuses, those supplying weapons to the Syrian regime, those trying to evade sanctions and those conducting malicious cyberactivity on behalf of Russia. It would also authorize sanctions on Russia's metals, mining and railways sectors, among other things.

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