Senate Questions Jeff Sessions About Contacts With Russian Officials

A friend of the president suggested a day earlier that Trump was considering such an ouster.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Department of Justice regulations created to prevent the appearance of a conflict of interest mandated his recusal from the Department's Trump-Russia probe.

Testifying at a Senate hearing, Sessions, who was a close Trump adviser during the battle for the presidency, said it was a "detestable and appalling lie" to suggest that he participated in or was aware of any collusion between Russian Federation and the Trump campaign.

"Why did you sign the letter recommending the firing of Director Comey when it violated your recusal?"

Russian Federation has denied repeatedly that it interfered in the US election, and Trump has denied any collusion by his campaign with Moscow. Sessions requested an open hearing, though it's not clear what he will and won't address in his televised testimony. While Democrats complained about a lack of answers, Republicans countered that the Sessions hearing showed a lack of evidence that tied the Trump Campaign to anything nefarious involving Russian Federation.

In one tense exchange, Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said, "I believe the American people have had it with stonewalling".

Throughout the hearing Sessions dodged questions on a panoply of topics using his dubious interpretation of executive privilege.

"I'm not claiming executive privilege because that's the president's power and I have no power there", Sessions admitted to the committee's vice chairman, Sen.

"I felt I was required to under the Department of Justice".

"Our committee will want to hear what you are doing to ensure that the Russians - or any other foreign adversaries - can not attack our democratic process like this ever again".

The strangest disconnect of the day was among Republicans and Democrats on the intelligence committee who agree that the Russians dangerously interfered with the 2016 election and will do so in future ones, and a White House that has a weird lack of interest in what happened. A senior Republican staffer was reportedly incredulous when asked whether Sessions thought of himself as a foreign policy specialist and met regularly with ambassadors while he was a senator. But his former Democratic colleagues pressed him repeatedly on his contacts with Russian Federation and his role in the dismissal of Comey - who led the FBI's probe on Russian Federation until he was ousted. It later was revealed he met twice with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, once as a senator and once as Trump's adviser before the inauguration.

But he denied meeting Kislyak a third time, at an April 27, 2016 reception for Trump at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington.

Senator Kamala Harris cut straight to the point in her first question: "Just on the first page of your three pages of written testimony, you wrote 'nor I do recall, ' 'do not have recollection, ' 'do not remember it.' My question is, for any of your testimony today, did you refresh your memory with any written documents be they your calendar, written correspondence, e-mails, notes of any sort?"

Although Comey also kept some cards close to his chest before the Senate intelligence committee last week, there was a stark contrast in tone.

Slightly more than half of voters said they watched part or all of Comey's testimony. There are none. I can tell you that for absolute certainty.

Comey said he held back because he expected Sessions to withdraw from the Russian Federation inquiry, and the bureau was aware of "facts that I can't discuss in an open setting that would make his continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic". Sessions said he had followed a "principle", which apparently is more of an oral tradition or something.

Legal experts have told ThinkProgress that Trump's public disclosures regarding Comey's firing put into question whether his conversations with Comey are protected by presidential executive privilege, a legal doctrine that is not constitutionally guaranteed but that historically has protected a president's communications.

Trump made his frustration known publicly on Twitter on June 5, when he criticized Sessions's office for the way it acted on the president's travel ban on visitors from some Muslim-majority countries. "But that in itself is not problematic".

"I received only the limited information that the department's career officials determined was necessary to inform my recusal decision", he said. "I am following the historic policies of the Department of Justice!"

"It was my best judgment that a fresh start at the Federal Bureau of Investigation was the appropriate thing to do", Sessions told the committee, yet he also revealed he did not inform Comey of his concerns related to his performance prior to Comey's termination.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein during Tuesday's Senate Appropriations Committee hearing.

  • Jon Douglas