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Jeff Sessions tried and failed to spread dirty gossip about James Comey

Reuters/Yuri Gripas
Sessions during a September conference.
By Max de Haldevang
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Three days after US attorney general Jeff Sessions officially recused himself from the probe into the Trump campaign’s Russia ties, Sessions tried to discredit then-FBI director James Comey, according to a richly reported New York Times story (paywall).

An aide to Sessions asked a Capitol Hill staffer whether he had dirt on Comey, explaining that Sessions wanted “one negative article a day in the news media” about him, the Times writes. A Justice Department spokeswoman denied the events to the Times, saying “this did not happen and would not happen,” but in an interview with the Lawfare podcast, the article’s author Michael Schmidt said the paper was “comfortable” with the story’s accuracy.

The alleged event came two days after Comey told Congress he felt “mildly nauseous” about the idea he had influenced the 2016 election in favor of Trump and refused to confirm or deny whether he was investigating him. This reportedly enraged Trump, who on the same day, according to the Times, “unloaded on Sessions” for washing his hands of the investigation.

On Trump’s orders, White House lawyers had unsuccessfully tried to stop Sessions from recusing himself, the Times reports. Trump reportedly hoped Sessions would protect him from the probe.

Sessions’ ploy to get damaging information on Comey was “part of an apparent effort to undermine the FBI director,” the Times writes. Former US attorney Preet Bharara, a Democrat, suggested doing this should be enough for an attorney general to be dismissed.

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