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Lazaro Gamio / Axios

On Tuesday afternoon Jeff Sessions will face the Senate Intelligence Committee in an open hearing, where senators will grill the Attorney General about his contacts with the Russian ambassador.

Here's how Sessions will address some thorny questions, per sources familiar with his thinking:

1. Sessions will say he did not meet with the Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak at the Mayflower Hotel in April 2016.
  • In his closed session with senators last week, former FBI director James Comey reportedly told them about classified intelligence that suggested an undisclosed meeting between the two men at this event.
  • A source close to Sessions tells me the Attorney General was at the event but doesn't recall any interaction with Kislyak and certainly didn't peel off for a private meeting.
  • You should also expect Sessions to describe the source material for this charge, gathered from intercepted communications between Russians, as of a dubious veracity.
2. Sessions will say he didn't initially disclose his original meeting during the campaign with Kislyak because he was following instructions.
  • Expect Sessions to echo this statement the Justice Department made on his behalf.
  • "As a United States Senator, the Attorney General met hundreds — if not thousands — of foreign dignitaries and their staff. In filling out the SF-86 form, the Attorney General's staff consulted with those familiar with the process, as well as the FBI investigator handling the background check, and was instructed not to list meetings with foreign dignitaries and their staff connected with his Senate activities."
3. Sessions will dispute James Comey's characterization of a conversation the two men had in February.
  • This is a big deal, as Comey gave his account under oath.
  • The former FBI director said under oath that after his Feb. 14 conversation with Trump, he told Sessions he didn't want to have any more direct communication with the President. Comey then said that Sessions remained silent, perhaps shrugging his shoulders and nonverbally indicating that he couldn't be of help.
  • Sessions is expected to counter this, saying he responded to Comey by telling him the FBI and DOJ needed to be aware of official protocol regarding communications with the White House. The DOJ released a statement to that effect a few hours after Comey's testimony. Sessions is expected to make the same statement under oath.

Go deeper

Updated 44 mins ago - Health

California surpasses 50,000 COVID-19 deaths

A man prepares a funeral arrangement in in Los Angeles, California, Feb. 12. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

California's death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 50,000 on Wednesday, per Johns Hopkins data.

The big picture: It's the first state to record more than 50,000 deaths from the coronavirus.

2 hours ago - Technology

Facebook bans Myanmar military

A protester holds a placard with a three-finger salute in front of a military tank parked aside the street in front of the Central Bank building during a demonstration in Yangon, Myanmar. Photo by Aung Kyaw Htet/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Facebook said on Wednesday it would ban the rest of the Myanmar military from its platform.

The big picture: It comes some three weeks after the military overthrew the civilian government in a coup and detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi, causing massive protests to erupt throughout the country. Military leaders have been using internet blackouts to try to maintain power in light of the coup.

It's harder to fill the Cabinet

Data: Chamberlain, 2020, "United States of America Cabinet Appointments Dataset" Chart: Will Chase/Axios

It's harder now for presidents to win Senate confirmation for their Cabinet picks, an Axios data analysis of votes for and against nominees found.

Why it matters: It's not just Neera Tanden. The trend is a product of growing polarization, rougher political discourse and slimming Senate majorities, experts say. It means some of the nation's most vital federal agencies go without a leader and the legislative authority that comes with one.

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