Attorney General Jeff Sessions' Senate hearing is expected to draw an audience hoping to hear more about the Trump-Russia saga. The question begs to be asked – will Sessions talk about his contact with Russia and his role in firing James Comey?
As many as 19.5 million Americans – excluding digital audiences – tuned in to watch former FBI director James Comey's public Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on June 8. On Tuesday, many of them are expected to switch on the telly once again to watch the embattled attorney general, Jeff Sessions, field questions from the same committee over his Russia contacts and role in the firing Comey.
It will be the first sworn public testimony from Sessions, a longtime former senator, since he was nominated by US President Donald Trump and confirmed as the nation's top law enforcement officer in February.
TRT World's Harry Horton is following the story from Washington DC.
It comes as political intrigue pulses through the US Capitol following testimony by Comey before the same panel last week. Trump also expressed frustrations with Sessions, one of his earliest high-profile campaign backers.
In his appearance on Thursday, Comey said the FBI was aware of information that would have made it "problematic" for Sessions to be involved in investigations into alleged Russian meddling in last year's election.
Comey said he could address the details only in a classified setting – begging the question of what was asked and answered.
Invoking executive privilege
The president sacked Comey in early May. Given that as FBI director Comey was overseeing the investigation into Russia and its possible collusion with the Trump team, the firing has led to questions about potential obstruction of justice.
But Sessions, who recommended in a signed memo that Comey be fired, may end up claiming executive privilege as a means of limiting the breadth of his testimony.
Whether executive privilege is invoked "depends on the scope of the questions," White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters Monday.
"To get to a hypothetical at this point would be premature," he added.
Although Sessions backed Trump's campaign, he was also one of the first administration officials to fly into turbulence.
During his January confirmation hearing, he failed to disclose meetings he held with Russian officials.
Third Sessions-Russia meeting?
On March 1, The Washington Post reported that Sessions met twice with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the campaign.
Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe the next day.
"He didn't tell us the truth," Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy told MSNBC on Monday.
There are now "things that indicate he had a third meeting," Leahy added. "Let's find out under oath what it was."
Sessions may be under a further cloud after Comey suggested the attorney general may have failed to take appropriate steps to protect the FBI chief.
At the conclusion of a February 14 meeting, Comey testified, Trump urged everyone else but Comey to leave the Oval Office, including Sessions.
Comey recalled that he felt "something big" was about to happen, and "my sense was the attorney general knew he shouldn't be leaving."
Sessions heads to Capitol Hill in a perilous position with his boss, with US media reporting that Trump has grown displeased with his attorney general, notably for his recusal on the Russia probe.
Trump made his frustration known publicly on Twitter on June 5, when he criticised Sessions' office for the way it acted on the president's travel ban on several Muslim-majority countries.
The Justice Dept. should have stayed with the original Travel Ban, not the watered down, politically correct version they submitted to S.C.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 5, 2017
Comey said that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein would also appear before the Senate subcommittee on Tuesday.
Would Trump fire Mueller?
Comey may face questions about new comments on Monday by a Trump confidante who suggested that the president was considering firing Robert Mueller, a special counsel with sweeping powers appointed by the Department of Justice to lead an independent Trump-Russia probe.
"I think he's considering perhaps terminating the special counsel. I think he's weighing that option," Chris Ruddy, chief executive of Newsmax media organisation, told PBS News Hour, speaking of Trump.
Democrats warned that Congress would turn around and re-appoint Mueller as independent counsel if Trump dismisses him.
A White House official downplayed Ruddy's comments, saying "Chris speaks for himself."