Sessions decries 'innuendo' surrounding him

Sessions decries 'innuendo' surrounding him
© Greg Nash

In a furious exchange with Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHouse bill set to reignite debate on warrantless surveillance Senate confirms No. 2 spot at HHS, days after Price resigns Overnight Cybersecurity: Equifax CEO faces outraged lawmakers | Dem presses voting machine makers on cyber defense | Yahoo says 3 billion accounts affected by 2013 breach MORE (D-Ore.), Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsIntel leaders: Collusion still open part of investigation Republicans jockey for position on immigration Biden to Alabama: No more extremist senators MORE insisted Tuesday that he had “basically” recused himself from the federal probe into Russian interference in the election on the day he arrived at the Justice Department.

“[Former FBI Director James Comey] perhaps didn’t know, but I basically recused myself day I got in office because I never accessed files, learned names of investigators," Sessions said, defending his conduct at the helm of the Justice Department. 

But Wyden — one of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s more firebrand members — was dissatisfied with that answer.

ADVERTISEMENT
Just days before, in front of the same committee, Comey had suggested there may have been more interactions between Sessions and Russian officials than the two that led to his official recusal, telling the panel that months before his recusal, the bureau was aware of facts that would make the attorney general’s involvement in the probe “problematic.”

Pressed on what those matters were, Sessions raised his voice and fired back.

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

“This is a secret innuendo being leaked out there about me and I don’t appreciate it.”

Wyden, attempting to move on, suggested that Sessions was blaming Comey for engaging in “innuendo” — prompting Sessions to again respond.

“Some of that leaked out of the committee, that he said in closed setting,” Sessions said.  

Comey reportedly told lawmakers behind closed doors that Russian-to-Russian intercepts suggested that a third meeting between Sessions and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak might have taken place.

Sessions stepped back from the federal probe in March — two months before President Trump fired Comey — after reports emerged that showed he had not informed Congress of two meetings with Kislyak.

Sessions firmly denied those allegations on Tuesday.

The exchange was deeply contentious from the start. Wyden opened his line of questioning by insisting that the American people did not appreciate "stonewalling" from the Trump administration in the Russia matter.

Echoing previous testimony by other current officials — who have claimed that it is not appropriate for them to discuss conversations with the president, but have denied any claim of executive privilege — Sessions throughout his testimony had declined to answer questions about his interactions with Trump.

"Sen. Wyden, I am not stonewalling," Sessions said. "I am following the historic policies of the Department of Justice."