Honorable men. We paraphrase the rhetoric of William Shakespeare’s Brutus in “Julius Caesar,” a play much in the news today for its switch of imperial Rome to the Trump administration. We are not here to praise or decry the current New York theatrical production. But the challenge to the people of a democracy to discern what is done for the good of the republic and what is done for the good of the governing is as real today as it was in Rome or on the stage of the Old Globe in Elizabethan England.
It is in that context that the American public needs to process the ongoing congressional inquiry into alleged Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election and whether any members of the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians. Last week, the nation was gripped by the testimony of former FBI Director James Comey before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Comey’s testimony was riveting because why he was fired from the FBI remains unclear, why President Donald Trump chose to meet with him privately remains unclear, and whether the president asked him, as FBI director, to drop an investigation into former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn, who had ties with Russia and was fired by Trump, remains unclear.
What is clear is that Comey is an honorable man.
On Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions testified before the same Senate committee. There were no fireworks, per se. But Sessions was fiery in his response to allegations that he may have had any improper communications with Russian officials as a member of the Trump campaign.
“The suggestion that I participated in any collusion … is an appalling and detestable lie,” Sessions said.
Later, he added, “I recused myself from any investigation into the campaigns for president, but I did not recuse myself from defending my honor against scurrilous and false allegations.”
But the crux of Sessions’ testimony focused on what he and the president discussed about Comey’s performance and longevity as FBI director. On that score, Sessions said nothing, stating that those conversations, while not legally privileged, are privileged based on past practice. That remains an unsatisfactory response, but Sessions also is an honorable man.
The attorney general stated he, in effect, recused himself from all things related to the investigation into allegations that some members of the Trump campaign may have improperly met with Russian officials, from Day One, although official recusal came weeks later.
Sessions also said reports that he had met with the Russian ambassador at a Trump policy speech at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., were false.
As to why Comey was fired while the FBI investigation was ongoing, we still do not know. Sessions was clear he signed on to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s recommendation for firing Comey because it was based on Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton emails, Comey’s decision to go public with an ongoing investigation and Comey’s usurpation of the prosecutorial arm of the Justice Department by saying there was no basis for criminal charges against Clinton.
There is no confusion over what was in the letter Sessions signed recommending Comey’s dismissal. The debate is whether that was the real reason for the firing. The president has said publicly that it was not; it was because of the Russian “thing.” And Sessions would not say what he may have discussed with the president about the Russian “thing.”
So the congressional inquiry did not progress much since Comey’s fireworks of last week. As we stated then, this is the beginning of a long process. Russian intervention with a presidential election is a serious charge. What happened must be understood so it can be prevented. Sessions provided little on that score. It is too early to know who is telling the whole truth.
But honorable men often do not do the right thing.