EghtesadOnline: Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he never spoke with Russian officials concerning “any type of interference” with the 2016 presidential campaign and called any suggestion he colluded with Russia during the election an “appalling and detestable lie.”
Under questioning by Senate Intelligence Committee members Tuesday, Sessions added that he was within his responsibilities as attorney general to sign off on the firing of FBI Director James Comey, even though he had recused himself from involvement in a federal probe of Russia’s role in the election that was led at the time by Comey, according to Bloomberg.
With pressure growing on the White House over Comey’s dismissal and the Russia probe, Sessions also defended himself against Democratic allegations that he gave misleading testimony about his contacts with Russian officials during his confirmation hearing.
“That is false,” Sessions said.
While the hearing lacked the detailed revelations that Comey provided in his testimony last week, it featured sharp exchanges between Sessions and committee Democrats over accusations the attorney general recused himself from the Russia probe, in part, for reasons that haven’t been publicly disclosed.
“Why don’t you tell me,” what those accusations are, Sessions said to Oregon Senator Ron Wyden. “There are none -- I can tell you that for absolute certainty,” he continued, adding that he doesn’t appreciate “secret innuendo” being leaked about him.
Sessions sought to preempt questions from the panel about conversations with President Donald Trump regarding the Russia investigation and the May 9 firing of Comey, saying he “cannot and will not violate my duty to protect the confidential communications I had with the president.” Democrats said he had little basis for doing so without the White House claiming executive privilege.
Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico repeatedly said Sessions’ answers amounted to “obstructing” the congressional probe and his refusal to answer was without justification. In a response to Maine independent Senator Angus King, the attorney general suggested he wanted to keep the president’s options open.
“It would be premature to me to deny the president a full and intelligent choice on executive privilege,” Sessions said.
Sessions, in his first public testimony on Capitol Hill since his January confirmation hearing, suggested he’s only aware of the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia attempted to undermine the election because of media reports. He said he never read classified reports about the meddling or got a briefing, even before he joined the administration.
“It appears so,” Sessions said when asked whether Russians interfered in the 2016 election. “I know nothing but what I’ve read in the paper.”
Responding to questions about the firing of Comey, Sessions says he never informed the FBI chief of concerns about his job performance, which the administration cited in his dismissal. And he added that he discussed the need for a “fresh start” at the FBI with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein before either of the men were confirmed to their posts.
Sessions largely confirmed a key portion of Comey’s description of a February meeting at the White House, at which the attorney general and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner left the Oval Office so the president and Comey could speak alone. He said Comey expressed concerns afterward about being left alone with the president, a point highlighted in the former FBI director’s testimony last week.
The attorney general said he learned after the fact that Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak was at a reception held in conjunction with a foreign policy speech then-candidate Trump gave at Washington’s Mayflower Hotel in April 2016 that Sessions attended. But Sessions said he doesn’t remember Kislyak being there and has no recollection of interacting with him at the event.
Sessions has acknowledged two other exchanges with the ambassador, yet his failure to initially disclose those encounters during his confirmation hearing helped prompt his recusal from the Russia probe.
Warner pressed Sessions on whether he has confidence in special counsel Robert Mueller, who was appointed to lead the Russia probe and is still building his investigative team. He said he did, though he added that he has “no idea” if Trump does since he isn’t kept abreast of the probe.
Questions about Trump’s support for Mueller were raised after Chris Ruddy, the CEO of Newsmax Media and a close friend to the president, said Monday he believed Trump was considering dismissing the special counsel.
In testimony earlier Tuesday to a different Senate subcommittee, Rosenstein clarified that only he, not the president, can fire the special counsel. He said he’d there would need to be “good cause” to dismiss Mueller.
“I appointed him. I stand by that decision,” said Rosenstein. “I’m going to defend the integrity of that investigation.”
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters on Air Force One that Trump doesn’t plan to remove Mueller. “While the president has the right to, he has no intention to do so,” she said.
She added that Trump wasn’t able to watch much of Sessions’ testimony but, from what he did see and hear, thought the attorney general “did a very good job.”
Sessions’ testimony comes one day after National Security Agency chief Mike Rogers met behind closed doors with the Intelligence Committee, after last week saying he couldn’t respond to some questions about the Russia probe and Trump’s alleged involvement in a public hearing.