James Comey does not trust Jeff Sessions. That much was clear from Comey’s testimony Thursday, during which the former FBI director said he decided not to tell the attorney general about a disturbing conversation he’d had with Trump—the one in which the president asked Comey to drop the FBI’s inquiry into Michael Flynn—because he thought it might be of “investigative interest” and didn’t want the White House to know about it. The implication was clear: Comey believed that Sessions, the head of a nominally independent law enforcement agency that encompasses the FBI, would have turned around and warned the president that Comey had grave concerns about what had just transpired.
But that wasn’t the only reason Comey gave for withholding word of the Flynn conversation from Sessions. The other was that he and other FBI officials believed—as early as Feb. 14, the day of Trump and Comey’s meeting in the Oval Office—that Sessions would have to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. This turned out to be true, of course; Sessions did ultimately recuse himself. Crucially, though, he didn’t do so until March 2, after the Washington Post reported that he had met with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. at least twice during the campaign and had therefore misled Congress when he testified at his confirmation hearing that he’d had no contacts with Russian officials about the 2016 election.
So, what did the FBI know about Sessions on Feb. 14 that made Comey and others so confident he would recuse?
Here’s Comey at Thursday’s hearing:
Our judgment, as I recall, was that 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.
This extraordinary remark suggests there are more reasons than have been publicly revealed for Sessions to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. What those reasons were, we don’t know, but we can assume the senators on the Intelligence Committee will ask Comey for additional information in their closed session Thursday afternoon. We can also assume that special counsel Robert Mueller either knows what Comey is referring to or is very eager to find out.