Attorney general won't say if he's discussed Cohen pardon with Trump

Thursday, April 26, 2018

While speculation swirls over whether President Donald Trump might pardon longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen, who's in the midst of a federal criminal probe into his handling of an array of matters, Attorney General Jeff Sessions refused Wednesday to say whether he has spoken with Trump or other administration officials about the possibility of a pardon for Cohen.

"I'm not able to reveal the contents of any communications I might have with the president of the United States or his top staff," Sessions told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee.

A day earlier, when ABC News' chief White House correspondent Jon Karl asked Trump whether a pardon for Cohen was being contemplated, Trump dismissed it as a "stupid question."

Cohen has been under federal criminal investigation for several months, with federal agents secretly reviewing his emails and then -- in dramatic fashion -- executing search warrants at his home, hotel room and office three weeks ago. According to court documents, Cohen "is being investigated for criminal conduct that largely centers on his personal business dealings."

Cohen's attorney said the investigation started after special counsel Robert Mueller, investigating Russia's meddling in the 2016 presidential election, referred the matter to the Justice Department, which then passed it to the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan for investigation.

At the hearing on Wednesday, Sessions made clear that he believes Trump has the authority to unilaterally pardon Cohen and anyone else. But when Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., noted that nearly two decades ago after President Bill Clinton pardoned controversial figure Marc Rich before leaving office, Sessions insisted that such presidential pardons should be made only after consulting with the Justice Department.

Trump has already used his power to issue two highest-profile pardons -- of former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, convicted of criminal contempt by a federal judge in Arizona, and then of Scooter Libby, former Vice President Dick Cheney's ex-chief of staff convicted of perjury during the Bush administration.

Asked whether he has recused himself from oversight of the Cohen matter -- like he did for the Russia-related investigation -- Sessions wouldn't offer an answer. He said he is "required to be recused from any matter" tied to the 2016 presidential campaigns, "and I will comply with that."

"But it is a policy of the department that if you get into discussing the details of those matters, you can reveal the existence, scope or breadth or nature if a matter. That would be inappropriate," he continued.

Sessions said he did seek advice from career ethics officials within the Justice Department over whether he should have recused himself.

Meanwhile, Sessions offered support for his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, who has recently been ridiculed by Trump and others as he oversees Mueller's probe since Sessions is recused.

Rosenstein "works every day to do the job that he is called upon to do, that got dropped in his lap," Sessions said. "I do have confidence in him."

Sessions, however, would not say if he would resign if Rosenstein or Mueller were fired.

Sessions himself received words of support and encouragement from Senators on the panel. The attorney general has also recently found himself in the crosshairs of Trump's ire.

While walking out of Wednesday's hearing, ABC News' Pierre Thomas asked Sessions to describe his current relationship with the president.

"We're getting along," Sessions said.

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