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National

A Conversation With Sen. Patrick Leahy

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions will appear before the Senate intelligence committee today. He will field questions about his contacts with Russian officials while working with the Trump campaign and his role in the firing of FBI Director James Comey. Against this backdrop, a longtime Trump ally Chris Ruddy, CEO of conservative Newsmax Media, went on the PBS NewsHour last night and said this.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PBS NEWSHOUR")

CHRIS RUDDY: I think he's considering perhaps terminating the special counsel.

MARTIN: He means the president, suggesting that he could be firing Robert Mueller, the special counsel appointed to lead the Russia investigation. For its part, the White House told NPR that, quote, "Mr. Ruddy never spoke to the president regarding this issue, and with respect to this subject, only the president or his attorneys are authorized to comment."

For more, we're joined now by Senator Pat Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, a member of the Senate judiciary committee and ranking member on the appropriations committee. Senator, good morning.

PATRICK LEAHY: Good morning.

MARTIN: What do you make of Chris Ruddy's comments about the potential of firing Robert Mueller?

LEAHY: You know, I have a hard time keeping up with all of the things that come from the - supposedly from the White House. The things that we do know, though, is that the Russians were involved in our elections. The Russians are still trying to undermine us. The person who was investigating what the Russians were doing, FBI Director Comey, was fired.

And Attorney General Sessions has twice canceled coming to the Senate to tell the American people the whole truth. He obviously did not tell us the whole truth when both Senator Franken and I asked him questions about Russia in the Senate judiciary committee. I think he had to come and tell us what's going on. You know, at some point, he's acting as though he's a personal attorney for Donald Trump instead of being the head of the Department of Justice.

MARTIN: Well, let's talk about the attorney general. He's in the proverbial hot seat today. He was supposed to testify to your appropriations committee. Now the Senate intelligence committee gets to do the questioning instead. So specifically, what do you want to hear from him today?

LEAHY: I want to hear whether he had other meetings with the Russians. Why did he not tell us the truth about the first meetings? I want to know, did the president ask him to get involved with the firing of FBI Director Comey? Apparently he did. Yet at that time, he's supposed to have been recused from any involvement with Russia. And FBI Director Comey was the lead investigator on what the United States' involvement or what Russia's involvement was with the United States.

MARTIN: I want to play a bit of tape. This is some of James Comey's testimony before the Senate intelligence committee. And he was responding to a question from Senator Ron Wyden, who asked why Comey didn't tell the attorney general about his interactions with the president that he deemed so inappropriate. This is what Comey said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAMES COMEY: He was very close to and inevitably going to recuse himself for a variety of reasons. We also were aware of facts that I can't discuss in an open setting that would make his continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic.

MARTIN: So there'd been back-and-forth about whether Jeff Sessions was going to testify publicly or privately. It will be public today. But that's quite an insinuation James Comey is making. Is Jeff Sessions in danger of losing his job?

LEAHY: Well, they have floated rumors to that effect from the White House. But like all the rumors that come out of the White House, they're hard to know which are real, which are a spur-of-the-moment fake news from the White House. I don't know whether it is or not. He's been very close. He's acted almost like the president's personal attorney instead of acting like the attorney for all of the country. I think right now the president wants people who will not delve into his involvement with Russia.

MARTIN: Just briefly, it seems you've mentioned several times that you have felt confused or out of the loop or unclear on what is true and not true coming out of the White House. Is that hard to navigate as a lawmaker?

LEAHY: It is very difficult, and that's why I think Mr. Sessions has to come in under oath. He'll go before the intelligence committee. Eventually, has to come before the judiciary committee...

MARTIN: Yeah.

LEAHY: ...And testify under oath.

MARTIN: And answer questions. Senator Pat Leahy of Vermont, thanks so much for your time.

LEAHY: Take care. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.