Franken, Sessions spar about Russia

"Did you have any communication with the Texas attorney general or any other attorney general who was threatening to bring a lawsuit to void DACA before the decision was made by the Trump administration?"

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) asked Sessions during Wednesday's Justice Department oversight hearing about a new "religious liberty" memorandum announced on October 6.

Former Attorney General Eric Holder, whose tenure was embroiled in controversy, had some strong words this week for the Trump administration's position on key issues involving the criminal justice system.

"I felt the answer was 'no, '" Sessions said.

Sessions said he was not aware of any collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the Kremlin in efforts to influence the election, the subject of a special counsel investigation and several congressional inquiries. "Now it is "I did not discuss interference in the campaign" which further narrows your initial blanket denial about meeting with the Russians", Mr Franken said.

The official said that as a general matter, the guidance "doesn't legalize discrimination at all".

Sessions has formally recused himself from issues related to the Russian Federation investigation, a decision which angered the president, but he was interrogated on Wednesday on how rigorously he had observed his recusal.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions dodged questions at a Senate hearing Wednesday regarding the firing of James Comey as Federal Bureau of Investigation director, alleged Russian Federation meddling in the 2016 election and the controversial pardoning of an Arizona sheriff, citing the confidentiality of his conversations with President Donald Trump. "First it was "I did not have communications with Russians" - which was not true", Mr Franken said. But as the Wall Street Journal reported, one of Sessions' meetings with Kislyak happened at the 2016 Republican National Convention - an event Sessions traveled to and from using campaign funds.

In response to the Post's reporting, Sessions acknowledged that the meetings occurred, but denied discussing anything of a political nature with Kislyak. Sessions says he may have discussed Trump's campaign positions with the ambassador but insists he did not have a continuing exchange of information with him. Pressed by Feinstein about whether that meant Trump did say something about Russia, Sessions said he "cannot confirm or deny the existence of any communication with the president that I consider confidential".

"I'm not sure about that", the attorney general replied.

"He came into my office with two of my senior defence specialists and met with me for a while", Sessions went on.

"Hey, let me just deal with Senator Franken", Grassley said. "I think that's possible".

Asked if he had discussions with Russian officials about "emails", an apparent reference to Democratic party emails hacked by Russia (according to United States intelligence) and published by the WikiLeaks group, Sessions replied: "I do not recall any such thing".

Durbin responded "I'd like to have that", before launching into his next question: "Could a federal contractor refuse to provide services to LGBTQ people, including in emergencies, without risk of losing federal contracts?" "Is that legally significant?"

Most of Wednesday's hearing was centered on Russian Federation, and Sessions largely avoided saying "anything of real substance", the Washington Post reports.

  • Jon Douglas