Sessions decries 'detestable lie'

Sessions decries 'detestable lie'
© Greg Nash

Attorney General Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsAsset forfeiture becomes a federal power grab Sally Yates: Justice system 'may be broken beyond recognition' under Trump Peggy Noonan: ‘Weak and sniveling’ Trump is not as strong as his wife MORE vehemently denied any suggestion that he colluded with Russia to help swing the 2016 presidential election during combative testimony Tuesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The former Alabama senator repeatedly expressed personal outrage at the “innuendo” surrounding his conduct during sharp exchanges with several Democratic senators.

“I was your colleague in this body for 20 years, and the suggestion that I participated in any collusion, that I was aware of any collusion with the Russian government to hurt this country that I have served with honor for 35 years, to undermine the integrity of our democratic process, is an appalling and detestable lie,” Sessions railed in his opening statement.

“This is a secret innuendo being leaked out there about me and I don’t appreciate it,” he snapped in response to questioning from Sen. Ron WydenRon WydenGAO looking into improper HHS healthcare tweets Overnight Tech: Trump touts new Wisconsin electronics plant | Lawmakers to unveil email privacy bill | Facebook funds group fighting election hacks Overnight Finance: House votes to repeal arbitration rule | Yellen, Cohn on Trump's list for Fed chief | House passes Russia sanctions deal | GOP centrists push back on border wall funding MORE (D-Ore.). He blamed one of those leaks, regarding an alleged third meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, on Intelligence Committee members.

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Sessions said that it was “possible” the encounter with Kislyak occurred in passing but that he did not recall it. And he fiercely defended the circumstances of his recusal from the federal probe into President Trump’s campaign and Russia, claiming that he had “basically” stepped aside the moment he entered office.

While Sessions was swift to defend himself and the administration, he declined to discuss the contents of his conversations with Trump.

He claimed not to recall the answers to multiple questions, including the circumstances of the alleged meeting with Kislyak, reported to have taken place at a foreign policy address then-candidate Trump gave at the Mayflower Hotel in April 2016.

“I would have gladly have reported the meeting that may have occurred, if I had remembered it or if it actually occurred, which I don’t remember that it did,” Sessions said.

In one particularly startling admission, Sessions told lawmakers that he had never received any briefings on Russian meddling in the election — including the hacking of the Democratic National Committee or the subsequent release of emails through WikiLeaks and other outlets.

He insisted that he had effectively no knowledge of the federal investigation into the matter, now in the hands of special counsel Robert Mueller. He never reviewed files or learned the names of the investigators, he testified.

Pressed by lawmakers as to whether the White House had asserted executive privilege over his testimony on Tuesday, Sessions said that it had not — but that he felt obligated to ensure that the option remained open to the president.

“I am protecting the legal right of the president to assert it if he chooses,” Sessions said.

Sessions’s testimony did not substantively contradict the account given last week by fired FBI Director James Comey, which provided the impetus for the attorney general’s appearance Tuesday.

Comey described an encounter with Trump in which he felt the president had directed that he end the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

In Comey’s version of events, the president asked to see him alone in the Oval Office. Sessions “lingered,” he said, looking uncomfortable, but ultimately left him.

Later, Comey says, he “implored” Sessions to prevent one-on-one contact with the president in the future.

Sessions largely corroborated that story, except for one point: Comey said Sessions said nothing in response to his request, while Sessions insisted that he emphasized the importance of adhering to protocol for interactions between the Justice Department and the White House.

But, he said, “There’s nothing wrong with the president having communications with the FBI director.”

It was Comey who raised the specter of more interactions between Sessions and Russian officials, telling the panel last week the bureau was aware of facts that would make the attorney general’s involvement in the probe “problematic” months before his March recusal.

He later reportedly told lawmakers behind closed doors that Russian-to-Russian intercepts suggested that the third meeting between Sessions and Kislyak might have taken place.

Sessions stepped back from the federal probe in March — two months before Comey’s firing — after reports emerged that showed he had not informed Congress of two other meetings with the Kremlin representative.

He provided few new details on his involvement in Comey’s dismissal — which Democrats have characterized as a violation of the scope of his recusal — citing the confidential nature of his discussions with the president. Trump has publicly linked Comey’s firing to the Russia investigation.

Republicans tried to give the attorney general some cover.

Sen. Tom CottonTom CottonSenate rejects ObamaCare repeal, replacement amendment Live coverage: Senate begins debate on ObamaCare repeal If our innovators have no reward, how will America compete? MORE (R-Ark.) dinged committee Democrats for failing to ask directly about evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, suggesting that the omission was “maybe because multiple Democrats on this committee have stated they have seen no evidence thus far, after six months of our investigation and 11 months of an FBI investigation, of any such collusion.”

Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinFive takeaways from ObamaCare repeal’s collapse Senate heading for late night ahead of ObamaCare repeal showdown Overnight Healthcare: Four GOP senators threaten to block 'skinny' repeal | Healthcare groups blast skinny repeal | GOP single-payer amendment fails in Senate MORE (D-W.Va.) grilled Sessions on whether he has knowledge of meetings between a list of other Trump campaign associates and Russian officials.

To each name — including former associates Paul Manafort and Carter Page, among others — Sessions said that he could not “recall” or had no knowledge about meetings with Russia.

But it was Sessions’s contentious exchanges with committee Democrats that grabbed headlines during Tuesday’s two-and-a-half-hour hearing.

Pressed by Wyden on what it was that would have made Comey call his continued participation in the Russia investigation “problematic,” Sessions raised his voice and fired back.

“Why don’t you tell me?” he said. “There are none, Sen. Wyden, there are not. I can tell you for absolute certain.”