WASHINGTON ― Senate Republicans don’t seem to mind that four members of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet appear to have misled the public by withholding important information during confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill.
Even after Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday recused himself from any investigations into possible links between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government, GOP senators said questions of Cabinet members’ dishonesty were overblown. Several senators outright rejected the notion that Sessions and fellow Trump nominees Scott Pruitt, Tom Price and Steven Mnuchin had given misleading answers on Capitol Hill.
“I don’t accept that as true,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said, rejecting the idea that any of Trump’s Cabinet picks had misled the public. “You’re just making this up as you go along?” he asked, before quickly turning and walking into his office.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday night that Sessions, during his Senate confirmation hearing in January, failed to disclose two meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, and swore under oath he had not had any “communications with the Russians” during the presidential campaign. The revelation set off a political firestorm, forcing Sessions to recuse himself from any investigations into possible links between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government.
Last week, the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office confirmed that Pruitt, now the Environmental Protection Agency director, used a private email account for state business while serving as the state attorney general. The revelation directly contradicts Pruitt’s testimony before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee last month, in which he stated that he had never used private email for state business.
Price, now secretary of Health and Human Services, testified at his confirmation hearing in January before the Senate Finance Committee that his offer to purchase discounted stock in an Australian biotechnology firm was “available to every single individual that was an investor at the time.” However, only a limited number of U.S. investors in the company were invited to buy the stock at the lowered price, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Mnuchin, now treasury secretary, last month testified before the Senate Finance Committee. He denied that his bank OneWest, which was accused of predatory lending practices during the Great Recession, used “robo-signing” on mortgage foreclosure documents. But according to records obtained by The Columbus Dispatch, dozens of OneWest employees utilized the questionable practice in Ohio.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) on Thursday rejected the idea that any of the Cabinet members had withheld key information from the public.
“I don’t think you can leap to the conclusion that is the premise of your statement,” Collins said.
Collins acknowledged that Sessions needed to “clarify his answers” about whether he met with Russian officials during the campaign, in order to “promote public confidence.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) defended the way senators ran the nomination process in general.
“In the end, even when we had concerns about individual answers, we addressed those directly with the nominee and got the answers we were searching for,” Rubio said, adding that he hoped to speak with Sessions soon about his January testimony.
So, too, did Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who claimed Trump’s Cabinet nominees had answered questions in written and oral testimony ― “probably more than any nominees in history.”
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said he was confident that Trump’s nominees had “given what they’ve thought were the right answers.”
Most Republican senators said Sessions, who offered more information about his contacts with Russian officials during a press conference on Thursday, could have done a better job expressing himself during his confirmation hearing.
“His answer at the hearing could have been more clear,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said.
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