U.S. attorney general dodges Trump
questions, angering Democrats
Send a link to a friend
[June 14, 2017]
By Julia Edwards Ainsley and Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - 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 Donald Trump.
Sessions, a senior member of 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 2-1/2 hours
of testimony as they pressed him to recount discussions with the
"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 Senator Martin Heinrich said. "Now you're not answering
questions. You're impeding this investigation."
Sessions refused to say whether he and Trump discussed FBI Director
James Comey's handling of an investigation into possible collusion
between Trump's campaign and Russia during the election campaign before
the president fired Comey on May 9.
He also declined to say if Trump opposed 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 Senator Ron Wyden told 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," Sessions replied, saying he was simply
following Justice Department policy not to discuss confidential
communications with the president.
Sessions' testimony did not provide any damaging new information on
Trump campaign ties with Russia or on Comey's dismissal, but his refusal
to discuss conversations with Trump raised fresh 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
Last week, Comey told the Senate committee that Trump had fired him to
undermine the FBI's investigation of the Russia matter.
Trump's decision to fire Comey, a move recommended by Sessions despite
having already recused himself from the Russia probe, prompted critics
to charge that the president was trying to interfere with a criminal
Senator Angus King, an independent, questioned Sessions' legal basis for
refusing to answer questions after Sessions said 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.
Sessions said it would be "inappropriate" for him to reveal private
conversations with 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."
Legal experts said there was some merit to Sessions' argument.
Andrew Wright, a professor at Savannah Law School and associate counsel
under former President Barack Obama, said it was not unusual for
government employees to refuse to discuss conversations with the
president in order to preserve the right to invoke executive privilege
[to top of second column]
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions testifies before a Senate
Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S.,
June 13, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Sessions' clash with the Democratic senators was the latest chapter
in a saga that has dogged Trump in his first five months as
president and distracted from his domestic policy agenda including
major healthcare and tax cut initiatives.
"The suggestion that I participated in any collusion or that I was
aware of any collusion with the Russian government to hurt this
country, which I have served with honor for over 35 years, or to
undermine the integrity of our democratic process, is an appalling
and detestable lie," Sessions said.
"I have never met with or had any conversation with any Russians or
any foreign officials concerning any type of interference with any
campaign or election in the United States. Further, I have no
knowledge of any such conversations by anyone connected with the
U.S. intelligence agencies concluded in a report released in January
that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an effort to interfere
in the election to help Trump in part by hacking and releasing
damaging emails about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
Russia has denied any such interference, and Trump has denied any
collusion by his campaign with Moscow.
Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation in March
after revelations that he had failed to disclose two meetings last
year with Russia's ambassador to Washington, Sergei Kislyak.
In his testimony on Tuesday, Sessions addressed media reports that
he may have had a third previously undisclosed meeting with Kislyak
at Washington's Mayflower Hotel last year.
Sessions said he did not have any private meetings and could not
recall any conversations with any Russian officials at the hotel but
did not rule out that a "brief interaction" with Kislyak may have
A former Republican senator, Sessions was an early supporter of
Trump's presidential campaign, but sources say there has been
tension between the two men in recent weeks because Trump was
annoyed that Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe.
Sessions said on Tuesday he did not recuse himself because he felt
he was a subject of the investigation himself but rather because he
felt he was required to by Justice Department rules.
(Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, Richard Cowan, Andy Sullivan,
Amanda Becker, Warren Strobel, Steve Holland, David Alexander, Jan
Wolfe and Mohammad Zargham; Writing by Will Dunham and Dustin Volz;
Editing by Kieran Murray and Cynthia Osterman)
[© 2017 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2017 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.