Attorney General Jeff Sessions acquitted himself quite well in testimony Tuesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The focus on Sessions, in relation to the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, always has been absurd. He has told no lies; he has done nothing wrong; he has no involvement as either target of the investigation or conductor of it. (The only apparent earlier discrepancy between Sessions' statements and actions always was easily explained as confusion stemming from a rambling, less-than-clear question several months ago from Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn.)
Indeed, Sessions has been caught unfairly in a crossfire between Democrats and media out for blood, on one hand, and a self-absorbed and mercurial president, on the other.
From the former camp, several Democrats on the Intelligence Committee were outlandishly rude, hectoring, and obnoxious in questioning Sessions Tuesday without giving him the courtesy of listening to his replies or even giving him time to reply. On the latter front, if reports are true that President Trump remains furious at Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation, then Trump is both ignorant and way, way out of line.
As Sessions made clear by quoting specific Justice Department rules, the attorney general not only was absolutely right to recuse himself from the Russia investigation but also was duty-bound to do so. Despite what the conspiracy-mongers imply, that obligation applied for reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with his involvement with any of the matters under investigation. And despite what Trump appears to believe, the recusal did not make it more likely — indeed, it could have made it less likely, if Trump had kept his mouth and Twitter finger stifled — for the Russia investigation to more thoroughly engulf the administration.
In the midst of all the breathless fulminations from both sides, Sessions was a model of decorum. He was cordial and respectful, but firm and unyielding; he was as forthcoming as possible on all matters on which he thought he was rightly allowed to be forthcoming, and also quite open about why he could not be forthcoming on others.
(When he said he felt obligated not to discuss private advice he gave to the president, he also made clear that the obligation was only conditional and limited, just so as to retain the president's legal rights for the short-term until a decision on "privilege" could be responsibly reached. At least for the immediate purposes of this hearing, Sessions is indisputably correct: A temporary retainer of the rights of the executive is what any executive official owes the president, until the White House and its counsel can consider the legal ramifications.)
"I think Jeff Sessions helped himself quite a bit," said John King on CNN just after the hearing ended.
King continued by saying that Sessions particularly came across well in explaining that in effect he had recused himself from the Russian investigation some two weeks before he formally announced his decision to do so. Knowing that recusal might be required, Sessions showed integrity by taking the extra step of anticipating the recusal so as not to compromise either himself or the investigation in the meantime.
King is right. Everything Sessions did was in concert with both the letter and the spirit of the law and of internal Justice Department rules.
This is exactly to be expected from the Eagle Scout and longtime prosecutor: firm adherence to and respect for the law and, more broadly, for propriety.
Plenty remains to be learned about how Russia tried to interfere with our elections, and how successfully. But it won't be learned by concentrating on Jeff Sessions: The Alabaman was, and is, completely out of that particular loop.
Quin Hillyer (@QuinHillyer) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is a former associate editorial page editor for the Washington Examiner.
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