Attorney General Jeff Sessions appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee Tuesday to address several allegations against him. Both Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) hoped he would clear up all questions relating to the Russia investigation.
Sessions, who requested an open hearing a day before his testimony, began his opening statement by insisting that such interference by Russia into our election can “never be tolerated.”
Then, he proceeded to try and exonerate himself from any wrongdoing, particularly in regards to accusations that he met privately with Russian officials during last year’s presidential campaign.
“I did not have any private meetings with any Russian officials” at the Mayflower hotel last April, Sessions insisted.
He continued to emphasize he had “no recollection” of talking with the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at the reception in question. Besides, it was “entirely beside the point” into this investigation into Russia’s interfering in our elections.
The attorney general then got personal, shocked that his former colleagues would accuse him of undermining their democracy.
“I have never met with or had any conversations with Russians concerning interference with any campaign,” Sessions reiterated. “The suggestion that I participated in any collusion with the Russian government to hurt this country, which I have served with honor for 35 years, is an appalling and detestable lie.”
Many outlets have been obsessed with an exchange Sessions had with Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) during his confirmation hearing in March. Some argue that the then-senator misled the panel by answering he had never had communications with Russian officials.
“Former colleagues, that is false,” Sessions said. “Sen. Franken asked me a rambling question after some six hours of testimony that included dramatic, new allegations. I was taken aback by explosive allegations.”
Sessions said he wanted to refute claims of collusion immediately. So, he offered what he thought was “a fair and correct response.”
Yet, when Sessions decided to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, many took that as a sign of guilt. Sessions cleared up that allegation as well.
The attorney general recused himself not because of any wrongdoing, but because of a DOJ regulation that mandated department employees should not participate in campaign investigations on campaigns in which they served as an advisor.
That’s why he stepped aside. It is “absurd” to suggest otherwise, Sessions said, or that a recusal proves he would be unable to manage leadership of the DOJ.
Sessions then pivoted to the issue over former FBI Director James Comey’s firing. Specifically, he shed some light on the conversation he had with Comey regarding the latter’s meeting with the president.
Comey and Sessions met after a routine morning threat briefing. In that meeting, Comey reportedly shared his concern about proper communications protocol with the White House. Sessions said he agreed with Comey that the FBI and the DOJ need to be careful to follow policies, taking care to limit communications with the White House. Sessions said he was “confident” the FBI director would comply.
He did not, however, recuse himself from defending himself against false allegations.
“I have dedicated myself to the highest standards,” Sessions concluded.
When it came time for questions, several lawmakers wanted Sessions to expand on his involvement in the firing of Comey.
President Trump asked him and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for their opinions on Comey and to put it in writing, Sessions explained.
“There was a clear view of mine and Rosenstein that we had problems” at the FBI and it was his best judgment that a “fresh start” was the appropriate thing to do.
Comey had proved himself unfit for the job, Sessions said, because when he denied prosecution of Hillary Clinton after the email probe, that was a “usurpation of authority.”
The FBI, he noted, doesn’t decide prosecution policies.