U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who advised the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election, testified on Tuesday during a heated Senate Intelligence Committee hearing over a host of topics related to his past interactions with Russian officials, the firing of the FBI director, his recusal from matters related to the campaigns for president of the United States, and past knowledge of any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Sessions admitted he was the last one to linger around in the Oval Office before FBI Director James Comey met in private with President Trump on February 14th but avoided any discussions about his own private conversations with Trump and was tight lipped when pressed by Democratic senators.
Sessions confirmed that FBI Director Comey had expressed discomfort with his own private conversations with the president and claimed it was a “long standing policy” for the Department of Justice not to comment on conversations that the attorney general had with the president of the United States for “confidential reasons” although he fell short of invoking executive presidential privilege.
Senator Martin Heinrich expressed frustration with Sessions for not fully answering Congressional questions and claimed that he was impeding this investigation.
Sessions responded, “I’m protecting the president’s constitutional right by not giving it away before he has a chance to review it.”
Questioned by Senator Heinrich about the legal standard for not answering questions during congressional inquiries, Sessions explained that it would be “inappropriate” for him to answer and reveal private conversations with the president when he has not had a full opportunity to review the questions and to make a decision on whether or not to approve such an answer.
Heinrich said that the silence of Sessions, like the silence of Director Coats and Admiral Rogers “speaks volumes.”
As his defense, Sessions pointed out that he “consulted with senior career attorneys in the department.”
“I suspect you have” Senator Heinrich replied.
Concerning past conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak over the past year, Sessions acknowledged that he had reported two meetings with the ambassador, one in July on the sidelines of the Republican convention, and one in September in his Senate office.
He was unable to fully recall meeting with Ambassador Kislyak at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington D.C.
“I would have gladly have reported the meeting and encounter that may have occurred and some say occurred in the Mayflower if I had remembered it or if it actually occurred, which I don’t remember that it did” Sessions said.
Asked about collusion with the Trump campaign and Russia or any other foreign government, Sessions denied participating in any conversations of any kind that involved collusion between the Trump campaign and a foreign government and later called it a “detestable lie” in another part of his testimony.
Senator Feinstein questioned Sessions about the contents of the termination letter written on May 9th to FBI Director James Comey in which he wrote that the director of the FBI “must be someone who follows faithfully the rules and principles and sets the right example for our law enforcement officials” before he recommended his removal from the FBI.
Sessions acknowledged that he and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein had problems in those areas and urged for a new FBI director.
“There was a clear view of mine and of Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein as he set out at some length in his memoranda which I adopted and sent forward to the president that we had problems there and it was my best judgment that a fresh start at FBI was the appropriate thing to do” Sessions said.
Senator Heinrich explained that he finds it strange that neither Sessions nor Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein brought up performance issues with Director Comey in the past and noted that Deputy FBI Director McCabe has directly refuted any assertion that there were performance issues.
“This is troubling because it appears that the president decided to fire Director Comey because he was pursuing the Russia investigation and had asked you to come up with an excuse. When your assessment of Director Comey didn’t hold up to public scrutiny, the president finally admitted that he had fired Director Comey because he was pursuing the Russia investigation, i.e. the Lester Holt interview” Senator Heinrich said.
“You said you did not break recusal when participating in the Comey firing, but it appears that it was directly related to Russia and not department mismanagement” Senator Heinrich added.
Sessions cited Comey’s past handling of Clinton’s case that was declined for prosecution and said it represented something that he believes most professionals in the Department of Justice would totally agree that the FBI investigative agency does not decide whether to prosecute or decline criminal cases.
Concerning his March 2nd recusal from the Russian probe operated by the FBI and Department of Justice, Sessions said he was required to recuse himself under the rules of the Department of Justice and as a leader of the Department of Justice and cited a department rule that outlines a conflict of interest clause.
Sessions told Senator Warner during his testimony that he has confidence in Mr. Robert Mueller who was recently appointed to be special counsel for the probe about Russian meddling during the 2016 presidential election, among other matters.
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