Attorney general Jeff Sessions to face Russia questions in senate

Move adds to pressure on Trump administration as its travel-ban appeal is rejected

The US attorney general, Jeff Sessions, will testify publicly before the intelligence committee of the United States Senate on Tuesday, when he is expected to face questions about his contact with Russian officials during the 2016 presidential-election campaign and his interactions with James Comey, the fired FBI chief.

The chairman of the committee, Richard Burr, confirmed that the hearing would take place in open session after Mr Sessions volunteered to appear over the weekend, in a surprise move. He had been due to appear before other committees about the justice department's budget, but he will now be represented at those by his deputy, Rod Rosenstein.

“In light of reports regarding Mr Comey’s recent testimony before the Senate select committee on intelligence, it is important that I have an opportunity to address these matters in the appropriate forum,” Mr Sessions said.

The former senator from Alabama was appointed to the nation's top justice role by Donald Trump, a major ally of whose he had been during the campaign. In March Mr Sessions recused himself from all investigations involving Russia, after revelations that he had not disclosed during his confirmation hearing previous contacts with Russian officials.

The attorney general was mentioned several times during Comey’s appearance at the committee last week. The former FBI chief claimed that Mr Sessions was one of several officials whom Mr Trump asked to leave the Oval Office on February 14th, before the president asked Mr Comey to back off an investigation into Mike Flynn, who had resigned as national security adviser a day earlier.

Mr Comey said that he approached Mr Sessions the day after the Oval Office meeting, asking him not to leave him alone with Mr Trump again, but did not receive a reply. Mr Sessions, through his lawyer, disputed this account on Friday, stating that he told Mr Comey that the FBI and the justice department “needed to be careful about following appropriate policies regarding contacts with the White House”.

Mr Sessions is also likely to face questions about why he was involved in Mr Comey’s firing, given that he had recused himself from any involvement in investigations involving Russia. Mr Trump said last month that “this Russia thing” was one of the reasons he dismissed Mr Comey.

Meanwhile, President Trump’s proposed travel ban received a further setback yesterday after the ninth circuit court of appeal ruled against the order. The president had “in issuing the executive order exceeded the scope of the authority delegated to him by Congress”, it said.

The ruling, which follows a similar decision in March by a court in Hawaii, means the travel ban will remain on hold, although the court did say that the government could review vetting procedures for people entering the country.

The decision was the latest setback for the president’s revised travel ban, which proposed restricting immigration from six Muslim-majority countries for 90 days.

The Trump administration has argued that the president has the authority to issue executive orders related to national security. The US department of justice has already referred a similar ruling from last month to the supreme court, and is likely to do so with the latest ruling from the ninth circuit court of appeal.

Also on Monday, the attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia announced that they are suing the president over his business interests, arguing that Mr Trump violated anti-corruption clauses in the US constitution by not separating himself from his companies. In particular they cited foreign governments' payments to the president via his hotel empire.

"Every time the president has spoken about drawing a line between his presidency and his businesses, he's walked those promises back," the attorney general for the District of Columbia, Karl Racine, said.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent