A one-sided shouting match broke out during a congressional hearing Tuesday, as Sen. Chuck Grassley criticized Sen. Al Franken for asking Attorney General Jeff Sessions a “gotcha question” during his confirmation hearing in January.
The blow-up, which you can watch above, occurred during the confirmation hearing of Rod Rosenstein, Donald Trump’s pick to serve as Sessions’ second-in-command at the Justice Department. When it came time for him to ask Rosenstein questions, Franken took the opportunity to revisit his now-famous exchange with then-Sen. Sessions, and to call on Sessions to testify before the committee a second time.
During that Jan. 10 exchange, Franken cited a breaking CNN report about communications between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence officials, and asked Sessions what he would do in response to evidence that such communications took place. As part of his answer, Sessions said, “I did not have communications with the Russians”—an assertion that turned out to be false when the Washington Post revealed that Sessions had met with the Russian ambassador twice in 2016.
“My question was not answered honestly,” Franken said Tuesday, as Rosenstein, Sessions’ likely deputy, listened.
Franken continued, “I think he owes it to this committee to come back and to explain himself.” At this point he was addressing Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Grassley directly: “I have bent over backwards not to say that he lied. … I have given him the benefit of the doubt, but he has to come back.”
Grassley replied with fury in his voice, chastising Franken for asking Sessions a question based on news that had just been reported and that Sessions had not had a chance to review. “I don’t expect Senator Franken to act like I would towards our witnesses, but as I remember Senator Franken asking his question of Senator Sessions, he referred to something that had just come on CNN,” Grassley said. He continued: “You probably should have given him a chance to get the information you had and reflect on it and give an answer in writing.”
Grassley then turned to Rosenstein and Rachel Brand, who is Trump’s nominee for associate attorney general and is also being questioned Tuesday. “I said this to you when you were in the privacy of my office: If I was going to ask you a gotcha question, I was going to tell you about it ahead of time,” he said. “And I consider what Senator Franken asked Sessions at that late moment, [when] that story had just come out, as a gotcha question.”
Franken broke in to say, “It was not a gotcha question, sir.” Grassley replied with a roar: “It was. He didn’t know what you were asking about.” As Franken began to reply, Grassley slammed his gavel on his podium and ended the discussion.