Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the FBI's investigation into the Trump campaign's dealings with Russia, but his interactions with Russian officials and his involvement in the investigation are still raising questions. On Tuesday, Sessions testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee in a public hearing to answer lawmakers' queries.
The attorney general removed himself from the federal Russia probe in March after it came to light that he met with the Russian ambassador twice during the 2016 election (when he was still a United States senator and policy adviser to the Trump campaign). Sessions claimed he had no interactions with Russian officials during the election when confirmed as attorney general by the Senate.
When former FBI Director James Comey testified publicly before the intel committee last week, he hinted that there's more to Sessions' Russia connections and reportedly said in a closed hearing that Sessions might have had a third undisclosed meeting with the Russian ambassador.
"Our judgment was that he was very close and inevitably going to recuse himself," Comey said in the open hearing. "We were also aware of facts I can’t discuss in an open setting that would make his continued involvement in a Russia investigation problematic."
Here's what Sessions revealed in his Senate hearing.
Sessions Denied Colluding With Russia
In his opening statement to the committee, the attorney general denied having any conversations "concerning any type of interference with any campaign or election in the United States." Sessions said, "The suggestion that I participated in any collusion, that I was aware of any collusions by the Russians to hurt this country...is an appalling and detestable lie."
Sessions later said he never heard so much as a whisper of anyone from the Trump campaign colluding with Russia to disrupt the 2016 election. "I would've been shocked and known it was improper," he said.
He Doesn't "Recall" A Third Meeting With The Russian Ambassador
Disputing reports of a third undisclosed meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, Sessions said he doesn't remember meeting with Kislyak at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. in April 2016.
"I did not have any private meetings nor do I recall any conversations with Russian officials at the Mayflower Hotel... If any brief interaction occurred in passing with the Russian ambassador during that reception, I do not remember it," he said.
Throughout the hearing, Sessions repeated that he could have talked to Kislyak that day, but doesn't remember a meeting taking place. "I could possibly have [had] a meeting, but I still do not recall it," he said, adding that nothing improper would have taken place.
He Recused Himself Because Of DOJ Rules
When asked why he recused himself from the FBI's probe into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia, Sessions read from the Department of Justice's regulations that state anyone with a personal or professional relationship with anyone under investigation should not be involved. Sessions was an advisor for the Trump campaign, and other former Trump advisors, including Michael Flynn, are under investigation.
"I recused myself, not because of any wrongdoing...but because of a DOJ regulation," he said.
Sessions said the letter he signed suggesting President Trump fire Comey didn't violate his recusal from the investigation, although Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden said that answer didn't "pass the smell test."
He Disputed One Of Comey's Claims
In his own testimony, Comey said he asked Sessions to prevent direct communication between him and the president after a private conversation during which the president, according to Comey, said he hoped the then-FBI director would let the investigation into Flynn go. Comey said Sessions didn't reply.
"He expressed concern to me about that private conversation, and I agreed with him, essentially, that there are rules on private conversations with the president, but there's not a prohibition on private conversations with a president," Sessions said. However, he said Comey didn't tell him what the conversation that made him uncomfortable was about.
He Wouldn't Speak To Any Conversations With The President
Sessions repeatedly refused to answer questions about his conversations with the president regarding the firing of Comey and Sessions' recusal from the Russia probe. Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich accused Sessions of obstructing the congressional investigation by refusing to answer questions.
"Senator, I'm protecting the President's constitutional right by not giving it away before he has a chance to review it," Sessions said.
Multiple Democratic senators asked what alleged DOJ policy Sessions was referencing when claiming it was procedure not to disclose conversations with the president, but Sessions did not provide a clear answer. He claimed to be protecting the right of the president to invoke executive privilege (which allows the president to withhold information from the public), but conceded that President Trump has not asserted that privilege.