Why Jeff Sessions says he can't talk

Patrice Gainsbourg
Junho 15, 2017

Sessions, a senior member of the Republican Trump's Cabinet and an adviser to his presidential campaign, had a series of tense exchanges with Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee during about 2-1/2 hours of high-stakes testimony as they pressed him to recount conversations with the president.

"I don't recall you as being particularly vocal on such issues", McCain said. "You are impeding this investigation".

The public testimony Tuesday before the Senate intelligence committee should yield Sessions' most extensive comments to date on questions that have dogged his entire tenure as attorney general and that led him three months ago to step aside from the Russian Federation probe. Sessions said: "It did not violate my recusal".

Attorney General Jeff Sessions angrily denied on Tuesday ever colluding with Russian operatives in their campaign to meddle in the 2016 election.

"I'm not claiming executive privilege, because that's the President's power", Sessions told Sen.

"Senator, I'm not going to follow any orders unless I believe those are lawful and appropriate orders", Rosenstein answered.

Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who sits on the intelligence committee, said he fears that administration officials will "blur the lines between executive privilege and classification, and over-classification".

Sessions was asked about all of this under oath Tuesday by the Senate Intelligence Committee, the lead congressional committee on Russian Federation.

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Sessions hedged nearly all of his answers about whether/when he met with Russians, or why he was involved in firing Comey, or how he feels about the president's decisions, with: "I don't recall" or "I believe so" or "maybe". If other interactions had happened, he said, as former F.B.I. director James Comey reportedly testified may have occurred at the Mayflower Hotel past year, he "did not remember it". And by the time Sessions met with Kislyak at his office in September, then-President Barack Obama had already commented on the Russian hacking campaign and hinted at what could have motivated it.

"I do not" Sessions said when asked whether he knows whether the president records his conversations.

Sessions, a close Trump adviser during the battle for the presidency, said in his opening statement that it was a "detestable and appalling lie" to suggest he was aware of or participated in any collusion between Russian Federation and the Trump campaign.

In another exchange with lawmakers, Sessions disputed Comey's testimony about a key discussion the two of them had in February, after the president met with Comey alone and privately suggested the Federal Bureau of Investigation drop its probe of former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Comey was asked why he didn't immediately disclose Trump's request to drop the investigation against the former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn investigation to Sessions, who, at the time, had not yet recused himself from the Russian Federation investigation. He did not, at that time, tell me any details about anything that was said that was improper. He did not say he was using executive privilege, but rather adhering to longstanding tradition of Justice Department leaders to refrain from revealing the contents of private conversations with the president. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the person who would be responsible for carrying out any such dismissal, told a different congressional panel on Tuesday he would not fire Mueller without good cause and he had seen no such cause.

Sessions, a former Republican U.S. senator and an early supporter of Trump's presidential campaign, testified just five days after Comey told the panel Trump ousted him to undermine the agency's investigation of the Russian Federation matter.

In March he acknowledged he met twice past year with Russia's ambassador to Washington, Sergei Kislyak.

At the same time, Sessions said the US doesn't have a sufficient strategy to deal with cyberattacks.

Ahead of the hearing there had been suggestions that Sessions might have had a third, unreported, encounter with Kislyak, at the Mayflower Hotel in April 2016, where candidate Trump was giving his first major foreign policy speech. Further, I have no knowledge of any such conversations by anyone connected to the Trump campaign.

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