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Jeff Sessions denies “appalling and detestable” Russian allegations

Chip Brownlee

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By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter

WASHINGTON — Less than a week after the testimony of former FBI Director James Comey, Attorney General and former Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions sat in the same chair as the former law enforcement official and delivered a somewhat different set of what he said were facts, defending himself and the Trump camp from what has amounted to a near ceaseless onslaught of new reports and allegations.

In front of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, Sessions called allegations that he might have colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential election absurd “innuendo” and “false attacks.” The early supporter of President Donald Trump’s campaign pressed back against Democratic senators’ pointed questions.

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“I was your colleague in this body for 20 years, at least some of you, and the suggestion that I participated in any collusion or that I was aware of any collusion with the Russian government to hurt this country, which I have served with honor for 35 years, or to undermine the integrity of our democratic process, is an appalling and detestable lie,” Sessions said under oath before the committee.

During his February confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sessions said he did not have any contact with Russian officials during the campaign. A month later, reports surfaced that Sessions had met twice with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador. In Comey’s testimony in a closed hearing last week, the former FBI director reportedly told senators on the high-powered committee that Sessions had met with Kislyak for a third time at a D.C. hotel in April 2016 and failed to report it.

Sessions fervently denied that allegation, saying he did not have any private meetings at the hotel where Trump was giving his first major foreign policy address.

“I did not have any private meetings nor do I recall any conversations with any Russian officials at the Mayflower Hotel,” Sessions said. “If any brief interaction occurred in passing with the Russian ambassador during that reception, I do not remember it.”

Sessions in March acknowledged two meetings with Kislyak that he did not previously disclose in his Senate testimony. On March 2, he formally recused himself from investigations within the Justice Department directed toward Russian interference with the 2016 election. In his Senate testimony, he said he was already effectively recused before he formally made the announcement, declining briefings on the matter and avoiding information pertinent to the investigation.

His recusal, Sessions said, did not originate from any inappropriate activity; instead, he said it was appropriate because he was a surrogate for the campaign and a close confidant of the president, whose campaign might have been under investigation.

But several Democratic senators confronted Sessions about his involvement with Comey’s firing, asking why the attorney general had been involved at all with Comey’s firing if the former FBI director had been overseeing the investigation from which Sessions had recused himself.

“It is absurd, frankly, to suggest that a recusal from a single specific investigation would render an attorney general unable to manage the leadership of the various Department of Justice law enforcement components that conduct thousands of investigations,” Sessions said of his decision to get involved with Comey’s dismissal.

Sessions cited Comey’s handling of the investigation into former Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s emails as a prime reason why he concurred with the written statements put out by the administration on their decision to kick Comey out. But only a few days after the firing, Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt that Comey’s firing had, in fact, been his idea and it did originate from his handling of the Russia investigation.

The former Alabama senator didn’t get into detail about Comey’s firing and refused to say whether he had private conversations with the president about it, citing “longstanding policy” that cabinet officials do not talk about conversations they have with the president for confidentiality reasons. Though Trump never exerted executive privilege to prevent Sessions’ testimony, Sessions essentially censored himself.

Sessions’ closely watched testimony comes only days after reports of a rift between the attorney general and the president over Sessions’ decision to recuse. Sessions had reportedly offered to resign in order to please the president who was disgruntled that Sessions didn’t have direct oversight over the Russia investigation, which now lies in the hands of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Staff in the Trump administration spent Monday and Tuesday patting down reports that Trump was considering another potentially game-changing firing — that of the special counsel, Mueller. The reports came as some top trump supporters, including Newt Gingrich, and Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy — a friend and Trump confidant — began questioning Mueller’s ability to serve as an impartial supervisor. Ruddy said Trump was considering it.

Sessions and Rosenstein, who also testified on Capitol Hill Tuesday, both dismissed the reports as an improbability. There is a legal question of whether Trump himself could fire Mueller. Rosenstein, who now directly oversees the FBI, would likely have to make the move. He said Tuesday that he has no plans to do so.

But to many senators’ disdain, Sessions was largely mum during his testimony, refusing to discuss his talks with the president even as several senators asked him to present the legal basis for doing so, considering Trump had decided against exerting executive privilege.

Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine, was perhaps his starkest critic. “You said you don’t have the power to assert Executive Privilege, so what is the legal basis for your refusal to answer these questions,” King questioned Sessions.

“I am protecting the right of the President to assert, it if he chooses, and there may be other privileges that could apply in these circumstances,” Sessions responded.

Unsurprisingly, no bombshells emerged in Sessions’ testimony, perhaps to the disappointment of some Trump detractors who are still coming down from Comey’s testimony last week. During that testimony, Comey laid out a series of events in which the president seemed to be trying to hinder an investigation into one of his former top aides and National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who is reportedly under investigation for his Russian contacts.


Email Chip Brownlee at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

 

Chip Brownlee is a political reporter and content manager at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

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House passes General Fund Budget

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

The Alabama House of Representatives passed the state General Fund Budget on Tuesday.

The General Fund Budget for the 2019 fiscal year is Senate Bill 178. It is sponsored by Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose. State Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, carried the budget on the House floor. Clouse chairs the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee.

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Clouse said, “Last year we monetized the BP settlement money and held over $97 million to this year.”

Clouse said that the state is still trying to come up with a solution to the federal lawsuit over the state prisons. The Governor’s Office has made some progress after she took over from Gov. Robert Bentley. The supplemental we just passed added $30 million to prisons.

The budget adds $50 million to the Department of Corrections.

Clouse said that the budget increased the money for prisons by $55,680,000 and includes $4.8 million to buy the privately-owned prison facility in Perry County.

Clouse said that the budget raises funding for the judicial system and raises the appropriation for the Forensic Sciences to $11.7 million.

The House passed a committee substitute so the Senate is either going to have to concur with the changes made by the House or a conference committee will have to be appointed. Clouse told reporters that he hoped that it did not have to go to conference.

Clouse said that the budget had added $860,000 to hire more Juvenile Probation Officers. After talking to officials with the court system that was cut in half in the amendment. The amendment also includes some wording the arbiters in the court lawsuit think we need.

The state General Fund Budget, SB178, passed 98-1.

Both budgets have now passed the Alabama House of Representatives.

The 2019 fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, 2018.

In addition to the SGF, the House also passed a supplemental appropriation for the current 2018 budget year. SB175 is also sponsored by Pittman and was carried by Clouse on the floor of the House.

SB175 includes $30 million in additional 2018 money for the Department of Corrections. The Departmental Emergency Fund, the Examiners of Public Accounts, the Insurance Department and Forensic Sciences received additional money.

Clouse said, “We knew dealing with the federal lawsuit was going to be expensive. We are adding $80 million to the Department of Corrections.”

State Representative Johnny Mack Morrow, R-Red Bay, said that state Department of Forensics was cut from $14 million to $9 million. “Why are we adding money for DA and courts if we don’t have money for forensics to provide evidence? if there is any agency in law enforcement or the court system that should be funded it is Forensics.”

The supplemental 2018 appropriation passed 80 to 1.

The House also passed SB203. It was sponsored by Pittman and was carried in the House by State Rep. Ken Johnson, R-Moulton. It raises securities and registration fees for agents and investment advisors. It increases the filing fees for certain management investment companies. Johnson said that those fees had not been adjusted since 2009.

The House also passed SB176, which is an annual appropriation for the Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The bill requires that the agency have an operations plan, audited financial statement, and quarterly and end of year reports. SB176 is sponsored by Pittman and was carried on the House floor by State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chatham.

The House passed Senate Bill 185 which gives state employees a cost of living increase in the 2019 budget beginning on October 1. It was sponsored by Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville and was being carried on the House floor by state Rep. Dimitri Polizos, R-Montgomery.

Polizos said that this was the first raise for non-education state employees in nine years. It is a 3 percent raise.

SB185 passed 101-0.

Senate Bill 215 gives retired state employees a one time bonus check. SB215 is sponsored by Senator Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, and was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Guntersville.

Rich said that retired employees will get a bonus $1  for every month that they worked for the state. For employees who retired with 25 years of service that will be a $300 one time bonus. A 20-year retiree would get $240 and a 35-year employee would get $420.

SB215 passed the House 87-0.

The House passed Senate Bill 231, which is the appropriation bill increase amount to the Emergency Forest Fire and Insect and Disease Fund. SB231 is sponsored by Sen. Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro, and was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Kyle South, R-Fayette.

State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chathom, said, “Thank you for bringing this bill my district is full of trees and you never know when a forest fire will hit.

SB231 passed 87-2.

The state of Alabama is unique among the states in that most of the money is earmarked for specific purposes allowing the Legislature little year-to-year flexibility in moving funds around.

The SGF includes appropriations for the Alabama Medicaid Agency, the courts, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, the Alabama Department of Corrections, mental health, and most state agencies that are no education related. The Alabama Department of Transportation gets their funding mostly from state fuel taxes.

The Legislature also gives ALEA a portion of the gas taxes. K-12 education, the two year college system, and all the universities get their state support from the education trust fund (ETF) budget. There are also billions of dollars in revenue that are earmarked for a variety of purposes that does not show up in the SGF or ETF budgets.

Examples of that include the Public Service Commission, which collects utility taxes from the industries that it regulates. The PSC is supported entirely by its own revenue streams and contributes $13 million to the SGF. The Secretary of State’s Office is entirely funded by its corporate filing and other fees and gets no SGF appropriation.

Clouse warned reporters that part of the reason this budget had so much money was due to the BP oil spill settlement that provided money for the 2018 budget and $97 million for the 2019 budget. Clouse said they elected to make a $13 million repayment to the Alabama Trust fund that was not due until 2020 but that is all that was held over for 2020.

Clouse predicted that the Legislature will have to make some hard decisions about revenue in next year’s session.

 

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Day Care bill delayed for second time on Senate floor, may be back Thursday

Sam Mattison

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By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter

The day care bill, which would license certain day care centers in Alabama, was once again delayed on the state Senate floor after one lawmaker requested more information.

Its brief appearance Tuesday ended with state Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, saying a compromise had not yet been worked out with the bill’s detractors.

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Alabama’s Senate has been hesitant to act on the legislation because of complaints of state Sen. Shay Shelnutt, R-Trussville, who has been an opponent of the bill since its introduction last year. The bill’s delay on Tuesday marks the second time its been taken off the Senate’s agenda.

The bill has had a rocky time in this year’s session, but the bill’s sponsor state Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, said she is still confident about its passage out of the Legislature.

Warren, D-Tuskegee, filed the bill this session with the support of influential lawmakers including Gov. Kay Ivey, who told reporters last year that she though all day cares should be licensed.

Mainly sparked by the death of 5-year-old boy in the care of a unlicensed day care worker, the bill had great momentum coming into this year’ session.

Despite the growing support from lawmakers, Religious groups had concerns that the bill would increase state-sponsored reach into religious day cares in churches and non-profit groups.

Spearheading the dissenters was Alabama Citizens Action Program, a conservative religious-based PAC.

Warren, proponents, and ALCAP announced a compromise to the bill while it was still in the Alabama House.

Announced by ALCAP originally, the new bill was a weaker version in that it did not require that all day cares in the state be regulated. Instead, religious-based day cares would only need to be registered if they received federal funds. At a Senate committee meeting in February, Warren said a similar requirement was about to come from federal law in Congress.

The bill moved through the House in a overwhelming vote in favor of the proposal and passed unanimously out of a Senate committee a few weeks ago.

Warren, speaking to reporters after its passage from the House, said she was unsure if the bill would encounter resistance in the upper chamber.

It was the Senate that killed the daycare bill last year amid a cramped last day where senators took the bill off the floor. The bill may face similar complications this year, as lawmakers seem to be preparing to adjourn within a few weeks.

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Fantasy sports bill fails on Senate floor

Sam Mattison

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By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter

Would-be Fantasy Sports players in Alabama will have to wait to legally play in the state following a Senate vote on Tuesday.

The Alabama Senate decisively killed a bill to exempt fantasy sports from the state’s prohibition on gambling.

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Not even entertaining a debate on the Senate floor, the proposal was killed during a vote for the Budget Isolation Resolution, which is usually a formality vote preluding a debate.

Fantasy sports are contests where participants select players from real teams to compete on fantasy teams using the real-world players’ stats.

Since 2016, the practice has been illegal in Alabama following a legal decision by the Attorney General’s Office that categorized it as gambling.

The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville, predicted the bill’s failure during a committee meeting two weeks ago, where the bill passed unanimously.

Sen. Paul Sanford speaks to reporters after a Senate Committee meeting on Feb. 28, 2018. (Samuel Mattison/APR)

Speaking to reporter’s after the committee meeting, Sanford said the decision to file the bill was mainly a philosophical belief that the practice shouldn’t be illegal.

Sanford, a fantasy sports player before its ban, said that fantasy sports are a way to bring people closer together and not a means to win money. The Huntsville senator is not seeking re-election.

The bill’s failure in the Senate follows its trajectory last year too. A similar version of the bill, also sponsored by Sanford, failed in the Senate during the final days of the 2017 Legislative Session.

Since Sanford is retiring, it is unclear if the bill will even come back next session, or if it will even have a Senate sponsor.

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Jeff Sessions denies “appalling and detestable” Russian allegations

by Chip Brownlee Read Time: 5 min
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