Sessions's Testimony Clears Sessions (But Not Trump)

Cheryl Sanders
June 15, 2017

Attorney General Jeff Sessions told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday that he couldn't recall ever raising concerns about Russia's interference in the 2016 election in the meetings he had with Russia's ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak a year ago.

But for Texas Sen. Given that as Federal Bureau of Investigation director Comey was overseeing the probe into Russian Federation and its possible collusion with the Trump team, the firing has led to questions about potential obstruction of justice. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, now running the Russian Federation show since Sessions recused himself, told another committee he wouldn't be pressured to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller without good cause, yet another signal from a Trump administration figure that they will not risk their personal reputations to carry political water for the White House.

Comey was overseeing thousands of investigations at the time of his firing, Sessions argued, so the fact that he was recused from just one of them shouldn't mean he couldn't make a judgment call on Comey's leadership abilities.

Comey himself had a riveting appearance before the same Senate panel last week, with some key moments centered on Sessions.

The attorney general also dodged numerous questions, arguing that he "cannot and will not violate my duty to protect the confidential communications I have with the president", Sessions said.

"Disappointed that AG Sessions is refusing to answer relevant and proper questions - Americans want truth", Blumenthal, D-Conn., said.

Lawmakers for weeks have demanded answers from Sessions, particularly about meetings he had last summer and fall with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak.

"I may have had an encounter" with Kislyak at the hotel, Sessions testified, though said he had no recollection of it and knows that Kislyak was there only because he has subsequently seen video of the ambassador entering the event.

"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 honour for 35 years, to undermine the integrity of our democratic process, is an appalling and detestable lie", Sessions told the committee. Franken accused Sessions of trying to whitewash and downplay his lie and urged the Attorney General to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"Did the president, in any of those interactions that you've shared with us today, ask you what you should be doing, or what our government should be doing, or the intelligence community, to protect America against Russian interference in our election system?"

Sessions says he recommended Comey's firing after a number of concerns about his job performance.

But the attorney general added that he needed to not discuss his conversations with Trump, to preserve the president's ability to theoretically invoke executive privilege in the future.

It simply did not occur to me to go further than the context of the question and to list any conversations that I may have had with Russians in routine situations as I had many routine meetings with other foreign officials.

The testimony by Comey marked the latest chapter in a saga that has dogged the Republican Trump's first five months as president and distracted from his domestic policy agenda including major health care and tax cut initiatives.

But Sessions denied this, on the record, testifying that he did not recall seeing Kislyak at the Mayflower in April 2016 and did not have any significant or notable meeting with the ambassador.

"I'm not claiming executive privilege because that's the president's power and I have no power there", Sessions admitted to the committee's vice chairman, Sen. "Consistent with longstanding Department of Justice practice, I can not and will not violate my duty to protect confidential communications with the president", he said.

During the two-and-a-half hour hearing, he engaged in testy exchanges with several senators who pressed him for details on his discussions with Trump - which he refused to provide in the name of confidentiality.

He says Comey's decision to announce the results of the investigation without Justice Department approval was "a stunning development" because "the FBI is the investigative team".

Sessions testified Tuesday that he recused himself from the current Russian Federation investigation only because of a regulation that required it because of his involvement in the Trump campaign. And then he didn't answer my question.

Sessions added that since his recusal, "I have no knowledge about this investigation" beyond media reports.

"I know how this will be discussed, but that's the rule that's been long adhered to by Department of Justice, as you know, Sen".

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