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Essential Politics: The 'appalling and detestable' accusations

It was perhaps the most memorable phrase that came from the testimony given by Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions on Tuesday, his assertion of an “appalling and detestable” set of accusations.

Of course, it’s the same kind of thing that one could imagine critics of Sessions and President Trump saying about the accusations of collusion with Russian officials during the 2016 presidential campaign.

In other words, Sessions’ session likely generated more heat than light.

Good morning from the state capital, where we await Thursday’s big vote on a new state budget agreement. I’m Sacramento Bureau Chief John Myers, and we’ll get to those details in a moment.

SESSIONS STAYS MUM ON TRUMP

Over the course of nearly three hours in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the attorney general stridently defended his own actions and largely stayed quiet on those of his boss.

Sessions rejected all assertions of improper contacts with Russian officials, calling any suggestion that he aided Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election "an appalling and detestable lie.”

The former Alabama senator also deflected all questions about his conversations with Trump. And he bristled at assertions that he was obstructing the Senate investigation.

"I am not stonewalling,” Sessions insisted. “I am following the historic policies of the Department of Justice.”

KEY MOMENTS, SESSIONS VS. COMEY

We’ve got an extensive menu of offerings from Tuesday’s Sessions hearing.

For starters, we’ve assembled what you could call a greatest hits of sorts from the event. Then there are Sessions’ vague memories on some details (compared to crystal-clear recollections elsewhere). Or the full testy exchange between the attorney general and Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden on the refusal to answer questions, and many other notable exchanges from Sessions’ testimony.

And then check out the comparison between Sessions’ testimony and the appearance last week of James Comey, the former FBI director whose comments raised serious questions about whether Trump sought to squash a key part of the agency’s investigation.

THE QUESTIONS ASKED SAID A LOT ABOUT THE SENATORS

Cathleen Decker’s analysis of the big event focuses on what she calls “the ambitious class of new senators” who had yet another moment in the spotlight of the biggest story in American politics.

As she points out, there’s advantage to be found for some in the chaos.

We also take a closer look at the performance of California’s two senators, Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Sen. Kamala Harris. It was Feinstein’s questions that made clear Sessions was throwing up a wall in discussing his conversations with the president.

And Harris, the former district attorney, used her prosecutorial approach to elicit one of the most memorable quips from the nation’s top cop: “I’m not able to be rushed this fast. It makes me nervous.”

No doubt there will be more reaction this week, and we’ll have all of it on our Essential Washington news feed.

THE MUELLER QUESTION

Meanwhile, another hot topic remains on all things Trump: Would, or could, the president fire Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel overseeing the Russia investigations?

David Lauter examines the legal part of the question, which is based on a theory floated by one of the president’s confidants that Trump was considering it. The answer is, at best, muddled.

But the person with the clearest power — the man overseeing Mueller’s work — seemed to pretty much silence the debate on Tuesday.

"I'm not going to follow any order unless I believe they are lawful and appropriate orders,” said Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod Rosenstein when asked about a theoretical order from the president to fire Mueller.

The buzz prompted a response from the White House late Tuesday night: Trump has “no intention” of booting the special counsel.

By the way, dare we say it? Mueller only got the job four weeks ago.

A STATE BUDGET DEAL DELAYED, BUT DONE

We’re prepping for a formal vote on Thursday here in Sacramento on a new state budget, a $183.2-billion deal that finally was sealed after negotiations on two topics.

Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders had long been at loggerheads over how to spend new tobacco tax dollars. In the end, Brown gave more than he wanted — earmarking money to boost payments to doctors that treat Medi-Cal patients — but less than demanded by advocates who helped pass the tax through last fall’s Proposition 56.

Like most state budget spending plans, there are some unusual items tucked into this one. Perhaps none are as controversial as a provision to revamp state law pertaining to recall elections, just in time to change the rules, should a pending effort to oust an Orange County state senator who voted to raise California’s gas tax.

Also controversial: a budget provision making big changes to the beleaguered state Board of Equalization, including the elimination of many of its duties and shifting the job of holding tax appeal hearings to a new office of administrative law judges.

The budget’s fine print also includes a ban on firearms for Californians with outstanding warrants for a felony or certain misdemeanors.

And the spending plan would allow medical and recreational marijuana to be sold out of the same locations. The pot industry had sought the change to cut costs and the number of operations.

We’ll be covering Thursday’s big vote as well as more details from the budget agreement on our Essential Politics news feed.

UNDERSTANDING THE PUSH FOR BAIL REFORM

State lawmakers in December introduced a twin-bill effort to overhaul Califiornia’s bail system, as calls for action and legal challenges have spurred momentum for changes to court and jail practices nationwide.

But after one of those proposals stalled in the state Assembly last week, the future of the other hangs in the balance. Jazmine Ulloa offers a sharp look at the remaining plan and the challenges it faces this summer.

TODAY’S ESSENTIALS

-- Senate leaders have struck a deal to toughen U.S. sanctions on Russia.

-- The Treasury secretary said he supports major rollbacks of the financial reforms put in place after the 2008 recession.

-- Brown welcomed the prime minister of Fiji to Sacramento on Tuesday, who promptly made the governor a special advisor the next United Nations conference on climate change.

-- The House of Representatives has given final approval to making it easier to fire Veteran Affairs Department managers accused of misconduct.

-- Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra said on Tuesday he supports the push for single-payer healthcare in California.

-- Thousands of L.A. voters have already gone to the polls four times in the past four months. And a couple of more elections may be on the way.

LOGISTICS

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