MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Attorney General Jeff Session testified on Capitol Hill Tuesday regarding the investigation into Russian election meddling. Sessions came out swinging, appearing at times angry as he denied any personal wrong doing.
“The suggestion that I participated in any collusion — or that I was aware of any collusion with the Russian government to hurt this country which I have served with honor for 35 years — or to undermine the integrity of the democratic process, is an appalling and detestable lie,” Sessions said in his testimony.
Sessions took questions from the Senate Intelligence Committee about the role he played in firing FBI Director James Comey. Sessions also said he never had any private meetings or conversations with Russian officials regarding the presidential election.
Sessions has landed center stage in the ongoing controversy and criminal investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties with Russia because of a question Minnesota Senator Al Franken asked five months ago.
It was way back on Jan. 10, during then Senator Sessions confirmation hearing to become Attorney General, that Senator Franken asked a key question: What would Sessions do as a Attorney General if there was evidence that anyone with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russians? This was Sessions answer then:
“Senator Franken, I am not aware of any these activities. I have been called a surrogate a time or two in that campaign and I did not have any communications with the Russians.”
It would be another six weeks before evidence would emerge that Sessions had in fact had two meetings during the campaign with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Sessions then recused himself from any involvement in the Russia probe.
On Tuesday, Attorney General Sessions insisted his response to Franken, when viewed in context, was accurate.
“The assertion that I did not answer Sen. Franken’s question honestly — colleagues. that is false,” he said.
Sessions refused to answer some questions saying his conversations with the president were privileged, drawing fire from some Democratic Senators.
“I believe the American people have had it with stonewalling,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) said.
“I am not stonewalling, I am following the historic policies of the Department of Justice,” Sessions said.
Sessions became visibly angry when asked about former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony last week that aspects of the attorney general’s recusal were problematic.
Attorney General Sessions also strongly defended his role in FBI Director’s Comey’s firing saying despite his recusal he had the right to take an active role in management decisions. Sessions also said he did not know if the president has tapes of his meetings, including those with Mr. Comey.
After Tuesday’s hearing, Sen. Franken released a statement:
“Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ testimony in the Senate Intelligence Committee was very unsettling,” said Sen. Franken. “We know that a hostile foreign power—Russia—sought to undermine our democracy by meddling in the 2016 presidential election. But our attorney general, who is the top law enforcement official in the country, and the rest of the Trump administration seem unconcerned by that disturbing truth. They seem to have collective amnesia about meeting with Russian officials during and after the campaign and only remember when they have been caught. They are not acting like a group of people with nothing to hide.
“I also think it’s very clear, despite what he attempted to assert in his testimony, that Attorney General Sessions wasn’t actually confused by my question during his January confirmation hearing. Rather, I believe he’s trying to downplay the gravity of and whitewash the fact that he misled the Senate Judiciary Committee under oath and failed to correct the record until he was forced to do so seven weeks later after reporting by the Washington Post.
“Here’s my message to Jeff Sessions: stop misleading the American public, stop making excuses, and start being more forthcoming. Come before the Senate Judiciary Committee to speak honestly and openly with those who you first misled.”