Sessions denies any collusion with Russia during Trump campaign
Reuters | 6/16/2017, 12:18 p.m.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday denounced as a “detestable lie” the idea he colluded with Russians meddling in the 2016 election, and he clashed with Democratic lawmakers over his refusal to detail his conversations with President Trump.
Mr. Sessions, a senior member of President Trump’s Cabinet and an adviser to his election campaign last year, had a series of tense exchanges with Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee during about 2½ hours of testimony as they pressed him to recount discussions with the Republican president.
“You raised your right hand here today and said you would solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth,” Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich said. “Now you’re not answering questions. You’re impeding this investigation.”
Mr. Sessions refused to say whether he and President Trump discussed former FBI Director James Comey’s handling of an investigation into possible collusion between President Trump’s campaign and Russia during the election campaign before the president fired Mr. Comey on May 9.
He also declined to say if President Trump opposed Mr. Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the Russia probe in March, and whether Justice Department officials discussed possible presidential pardons of individuals being looked at in the probe.
Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden told Mr. Sessions: “I believe the American people have had it with stonewalling. Americans don’t want to hear that answers to relevant questions are privileged.”
“I am not stonewalling,” Mr. Sessions replied, saying he was simply following Justice Department policy not to discuss confidential communications with the president.
Mr. Sessions’ testimony did not provide any new information on Trump campaign ties with Russia or on Mr. Comey’s dismissal, but his refusal to discuss conversations with President Trump raised new questions about whether the White House has something to hide.
Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives’ Intelligence Committee, which is conducting a parallel Russia probe, said on Twitter that Congress “must compel responses using whatever process necessary.”
Last week, Mr. Comey told the Senate committee that President Trump had fired him to undermine the FBI’s investigation of the Russia matter.
President Trump’s decision to fire Mr. Comey, a move recommended by Mr. Sessions despite having already recused himself from the Russia probe, prompted critics to charge that the president was trying to interfere with a criminal investigation.
Sen. Angus King, an independent, questioned Mr. Sessions’ legal basis for refusing to answer questions after Mr. Sessions said President Trump had not invoked executive privilege regarding the conversations.
Executive privilege can be claimed by a president or senior government officials to withhold information from Congress or the courts to protect the executive branch decision-making process.
Mr. Sessions said it would be “inappropriate” for him to reveal private conversations with President Trump when the president “has not had a full opportunity to review the questions and to make a decision on whether or not to approve such an answer.”
Mr. Sessions’ clash with the Democratic senators was the latest chapter in a saga that has dogged President Trump in his first five months as president and distracted from his domestic policy agenda including major health care and tax cut initiatives.