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Top Intel Dem: Sessions refused to say whether Trump asked him to hinder Russia probe

The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee expressed concern Thursday after Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden assails 'epidemic' of gun violence amid SC, Texas shootings Biden administration should resist 'slush-fund' settlements Garland should oppose Biden effort to reinstate controversial 'slush funds' practice MORE declined to answer whether President Trump ever asked him to obstruct the ongoing investigation into Russian inference in the 2016 presidential election.

"I asked the attorney general whether he was ever instructed by the president to take any action that he believed would hinder the Russia investigation and he declined to answer the question," Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffHillicon Valley: Intel heads to resume threats hearing scrapped under Trump | New small business coalition to urge action on antitrust policy | Amazon backs corporate tax hike to pay for infrastructure Intel heads to resume worldwide threats hearing scrapped under Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Biden tasks Harris on border; news conference today MORE told reporters after the closed-door meeting concluded.

"If the president did not instruct him to take any action that he believed would hinder the Russia investigation, he should say so. If the president did instruct him to hinder the investigation in any way, in my view, that would be a potentially criminal act and certainly not covered by any privilege," the California lawmaker continued.

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A spokeswoman for Sessions, Sarah Isgur Flores, pushed back on Schiff's remarks, saying the top cop has repeatedly stated he would not talk about his communications with the president. She noted that he has denied in previous testimonies being instructed by Trump to do anything illegal or improper.  

Schiff told reporters that Sessions's reasons for not answering this specific question is a weak argument. 

“That, under any conceivable idea, is not privileged, so I think that is even a weaker argument to make than with respect to a particular conversation that he may have had with the president,” he added.

Schiff opined that the Republican lawmakers on the committee “in a unilateral fashion” decided against releasing Sessions's testimony, pointing to previous agency heads who have openly appeared before the panel.

"The Congress has the need to know and so do the American people," Schiff said, adding that he feels the committee should "compel" Sessions to answer the questions he did not answer during the meeting.

He said the panel “extensively” covered the interactions they have had with former Trump campaign officials like Carter Page and the interactions that he had with George Papadopoulos, adding “that was certainly a big focus of our interview today.”

Sessions's appearance on Thursday comes as the panel continues to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion between Moscow and Trump campaign staff.

The meeting comes two weeks after Sessions made a public appearance before the Judiciary Committee, during which he was grilled by members of both parties.