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Letter to the Hon. Jeff Sessions, Attorney General - Answer Questions on Conversations with Trump


Dear Attorney General Sessions:

In light of your upcoming appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, we write to express our expectation that you will answer Members' questions fully and truthfully. With respect to potential assertions of executive privilege on behalf of the president, we wish to put you on notice that any reasonable period of abeyance on many of the issues about which you will be asked has long elapsed.

In response to numerous questions (whose responses would not have been classified) at a public hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on June 13, 2017, you cited "longstanding Department of Justice practice" and your "duty to protect confidential communications" with the president, and informed the Committee that you were "protecting the right of the president to assert [executive privilege] if he chooses."

Following your testimony, the Department of Justice told the media that "declining to answer questions at a congressional hearing about confidential conversations with the president is a long-standing executive-branch-wide practice," and that "the basis for this historical practice is laid out" in two 1982 memoranda. One memorandum focuses on Congress's broad power of inquiry to expose corruption in the executive branch, emphasizing the extensive limits on executive privilege, and does not provide any support for your assertion of a right not to answer. The other sets forth a formal procedure through which the Attorney General may temporarily hold off inquiries that raise "substantial questions of executive privilege" while the president decides whether to claim privilege. In order to invoke the procedure outlined in the memorandum, however, the Attorney General must expressly request that Congress hold its requests "in abeyance" while the president makes his privilege determination.

We expect that when you appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on October 18th, you will have determined whether the president will invoke executive privilege as to specific topics and will be prepared to answer completely all questions in those areas on which he has not. As to the former category, we will expect you to provide the Committee with a list of issues over which the privilege has affirmatively been asserted.