WASHINGTON – Embattled Attorney General Jeff Sessions told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday that any suggestion that he colluded with Russian officials while he was advising the Trump campaign is “an appalling and detestable lie.”
Sessions also said he could “not recall” a reported meeting with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during an April campaign event at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C.
Sessions said he has never been briefed on the Russia investigation since taking office because he had begun considering his recusal from the Russia matter immediately after becoming attorney general. Sessions said he recused himself because of departmental rules that say no one should participate in an investigation of a campaign he was involved in.
“I have no knowledge of the investigation beyond what has been reported in the press,’’ Sessions said. “And I don’t even read that.’’
Sessions is testifying in an extraordinary public session in which senators are grilling the nation’s chief law enforcement officer on his prior contacts with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak and his involvement in the firing of FBI director James Comey.
The attorney general said it would be “absurd to suggest that a recusal from a single investigation would prevent me from managing an agency.’’
“I did not recuse myself from defending my honor from scurrilous allegations,’” he said.
Later, he challenged Comey’s testimony last week in which the former director said Sessions failed to act on the former director’s concerns about President Trump’s direct contact with Comey on Feb. 14, where the president directed Comey to drop its investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Sessions said Comey indeed expressed concern about the nature of the contact, but he did not disclose the content of his meeting with Trump. But the attorney general said that he acted on Comey’s concern, urging caution in future contacts between the White House and FBI.
“I encouraged him to do just that,” Sessions said.
He said “there is nothing wrong” with the president communicating directly with the FBI.
“What is problematic is to talk…about ongoing investigations that are not properly cleared through top levels of the Department of Justice,” Sessions testified.
Sessions testimony comes less than a week after former FBI Director James Comey raised questions about the attorney general’s role in his firing last month and Sessions’ exclusion from a Feb. 14 White House meeting in which Comey was asked to drop the bureau’s investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
“Attorney General Sessions, this is your opportunity to separate fact from fiction,’’ said committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C.
Comey testified that he decided not to report the president’s request to Sessions at the time, because the attorney general was weighing his recusal from all matters related to the Russia investigation.
“We also were aware of facts that I can’t discuss in an open setting that would make (Sessions’) continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic,’’ Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday.
Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation weeks later. The matter that Comey declined to disclose appears to refer to an ongoing inquiry over whether Sessions failed to disclose a third meeting with the Russian ambassador during a April 16 campaign event for then-presidential candidate Trump. Democratic Sens. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Al Franken of Minnesota had asked the FBI early last year to review the possible third meeting with Kislyak.
“It has been more than three months since the press revealed that the Attorney General gave false testimony in response to questions from me and from Senator Franken about his contacts with Russian officials,” Leahy said in a statement Tuesday. “Yet, the Attorney General has made no effort to come back before the Judiciary Committee to explain his actions — actions that could be construed as perjury.”
Justice officials have strongly denied that a third meeting occurred between Sessions and Kislyak.
Just hours before Sessions’ appearance, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told a separate Senate panel that there was no reason to consider the removal of Russia special counsel Robert Mueller, despite suggestions that Trump was weighing such an action.
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