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Jeff Sessions testifies before the Senate: “I am not stonewalling”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions Testifies Before Senate Intelligence Committee
Win McNamee/Getty Images

The big question people were wondering today was, would Jeff Sessions help his boss or help himself? He basically tried to do both.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions offered an aggressive defense of his conduct surrounding the Russia investigation on Tuesday, telling an open Senate hearing any allegations he had colluded with Moscow to undermine the election were an “appalling and detestable lie” and that he would not stand by while others suggested he had committed any wrongdoing.

“I recused myself from any investigation into the campaigns for president, but I did not recuse myself from defending my honor against scurrilous and false allegations,” he told senators in a raised tone, as he read his opening statement. “At all times throughout the course of the campaign, the confirmation process, and since becoming attorney general, I have dedicated myself to the highest standards.”

The Senate Intelligence Committee hearing marks Sessions’s first appearance before Congress since his confirmation in February. His testimony also comes less than a week after former FBI Director James Comey’s dramatic session, which was the subject of several lawmakers’ questions Tuesday.

These are the questions Chairman Richard Burr wanted to be answered in the hearing:

Richard Burr QuestionsHere are the highlights from Jeff Session’s appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee:

  • Senator Richard Burr: “This committee’s role is to be the eyes and ears for the other 85 members of United States Senate and for the American people.”
  • Senator Mark Warner: We see this appearance as “just a beginning of our interaction with you and your department.”
  • Sessions: “I appreciate the Committee’s critically important efforts to investigate Russian interference with our democratic processes.”
  • Sessions says he can not violate his duty regarding confidential conversations he had with the president.
  • Sessions: “No recollection of meeting and talking to the Russia ambassador or any other Russian official” at the Mayflower event (denies the third meeting with Kislyak).
  • Even before senators pepper Sessions, he’s going on offense: calls any suggestion of collusion “appalling and detestable lie.”
  • Sessions says it is ‘false’ that he did not answer Senator Franken truthfully during his confirmation hearing.
  • Sessions says he has no knowledge of any collusion between Trump campaign and Russian officials. The thing is, he hasn’t been accused of that.
  • “I have no knowledge about this [Russia] investigation…beyond what has been publicly reported. I don’t even read that.”
  • Sessions says he was never briefed on the Russia probe between Feb 10 and March 2 when he recused himself.
  • Sessions says he recused himself because a Justice Department regulation required it due to his involvement as campaign adviser.
  • Sessions: I have taken “no action whatsoever” with regard to any Russia-related probe. But he did recommend firing Comey.
  • Comey expressed concern to him about proper communications protocol with the president, Sessions said. Sessions responded that FBI needed to follow Justice Department policy in communicating with White House.
  • Sessions: “I did not recuse myself from defending my honor from scurrilous and false allegations.”
  • Burr: Were you at Mayflower as Trump surrogate or US senator? Sessions: “I came there as an interested person.”
  • Sessions: “No interactions with Robert Mueller” so far.
  • Sessions: “There is nothing wrong with the president having a conversation with FBI director, but he cannot discuss ongoing investigations.”
  • Sessions: “I have confidence in Mr. Mueller but I’m not going to discuss an hypotheticals.” He hasn’t talked to Trump about his level of confidence in Mueller.
  • Warner: Would you take steps to fire Mueller? Sessions: “Wouldn’t be appropriate for me.”
  • Sessions won’t comment about presidential pardons. “Longstanding policy is DOJ won’t comment about conversations with president.”
  • Sessions says he never had any conversations with FBI Director Comey about his performance before he was fired.
  • Burr: You never remember having a conversation or a meeting with Kislyak? Sessions: “I do not.”
  • So, Sessions: 1. Can’t remember if he talked to Kisylak at the Mayflower. 2. Is certain nothing untoward happened if the meeting happened.
  • Sessions on a third meeting with Kislyak: “I could say that I possibly had a meeting but I do not recall it.”
  • You fired Comey for what you said were his failings as director. You ever talked about them with him?
    “I did not.”
  • Sessions now acknowledges Comey did “express concern” about being left alone with the president when they talked on Feb. 15.
  • Senator Jim Risch showed everyone that he is a White House puppet with his line of questioning.
  • Regarding Comey’s firing Sessions said, “I guess I’ll have to let his words speak for himself,” Sessions says of Trump’s thinking. Probably his safest bet.
  • Sen. Feinstein focuses on circumstances around Comey’s firing. Sessions won’t confirm or deny conversations with Trump. Sessions isn’t diving into “private conversations” with Trump; alludes to backlash he knows he may get because of it.
  • Feinstein: Do you concur that POTUS was going to fire Comey regardless? AG: I guess I’ll just have to let his words speak for [themselves].
  • Rubio asks about Comey’s testimony that Sessions lingered before Trump meeting. Sessions: “I do recall being the last one to leave.”
  • Sen. Rubio asks if there’s an obligation to preserve any Oval Office recordings. Sessions: “I don’t know, Senator Rubio. Probably so.”
  • Rubio: “Do you know if the president records conversations in the Oval Office or anywhere in the White House?”
    Sessions: “I do not.”
  • Sen. Ron Wyden says “the American people have had it with stonewalling.” Sessions: “I am not stonewalling.”
  • Sessions is legitimately ticked off, getting upset with Wyden on any “problematic” reasons for recusal: “There are none!” he nearly shouts. Sessions: “This is secret innuendo that’s being leaked out about me and I don’t appreciate it!”
  • Sessions insists his signing on to Comey letter was proper: “It did not violate my recusal.” Wyden: “That doesn’t pass the smell test.”

Sessions offers a respectful no comment to Sen. Susan Collins question Comey’s firing in light of Trump’s interview with Lester Holt for NBC.

Senator Martin Heinrich nailing Sessions on the fact that without invoking executive privilege, there are no rules that prevent him answering questions. “Now you’re not answering questions. You’re impeding this investigation.”

Sessions says he’s protecting POTUS’s Constitutional rights in keeping certain convos private.

  • Sessions on Mayflower/Kislyak again: “I didn’t have a formal meeting…I may have had an encounter with him at a reception.”

Here is the photo from the event and caption – Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) (2L) speaks with a guest while Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak (front row R) waits to hear Republican US Presidential hopeful Donald Trump speak about foreign policy at the Mayflower Hotel April 27, 2016 in Washington, DC.:

US-RUSSIA-POLITICS-TRUMP
Credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
  • Sen. Angus King picks up the Heinrich line of questioning, demanding to know without executive privilege what is Sessions’ basis for not answering questions. Sessions is asserting his obligation to protect the president’s ability to receive advice. But Sessions recused from advising on Russiagate.

  • I am protecting the right of the president to assert it if he chooses to assert executive privilege.
  • Attorney General Sessions says he was never briefed on Russian election interference: “I know nothing but what I’ve read in the paper.”
  • King: “Do you think Russians interfered with 2016 election?” Sessions: “Appears so.” King: “But you never asked about it?” Sessions: “No.” Let that sink in for a minute. Think about the importance of that. The U.S. Attorney General has never been briefed on Russian election interference. Monumental statement.
  • Rep. Senator James Lankford takes some time to defend Sessions before his non-questioning of Sessions. Choice quote: “You speak as a man eager to set the record straight.”
  • Jeff Sessions will not commit to providing more information to the senators in a closed session.
  • Sen Cotton: Do you like James Bond movies? WHAT THE FUCK? Someone is stumping for Trump big time!
  • Tom Cotton: “Do you like Jason Bourne or James Bond movies?” Jeff Sessions: “No… yes.”

  • Kamala Harris asks if Sessions at any time refreshed his recollection of events with written notes.
  • Sessions, re: questions from Kamala Harris: “I’m not able to be rushed this fast. It makes me nervous.”
  • McCain once again interrupts Kamala Harris while questioning Jeff Sessions. She is the ONLY senator who was erupted by another senator while questioning.

  • Sessions earlier said he has not sought any information about Russia. Now he says he raised concerns about Russia invading Ukraine. Hmm.
  • McCain, putting a much better showing than he did at the Comey hearing. He’s actually accomplishing something here: showing Sessions had no apparent interest in Russia-related security issues as a Senator.
  • Sessions: “We do not have a sufficient strategy dealing with technological and IT penetrations of our system.”
  • “There doesn’t seem to be a recognition of the seriousness of this threat” says Warner of the Russia investigation.

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