U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday denied taking part in or knowing of any collusion between Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russia, calling the suggestion “an appalling and detestable lie”
Testifying in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sessions however refused to answer a series of questions about his conversations with the president.
The most senior member of Trump’s administration to be caught up in the controversy, he appeared before the committee just five days after former FBI director James Comey told the panel Trump fired him to undermine the agency’s investigation into alleged Russian meddling into the 2016 election. Sessions had written a letter to Trump recommending Comey’s sacking.
“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 to the Trump campaign,” Sessions said.
“The suggestion that I participated in any collusion, that I was aware of any collusion with the Russian government to hurt this country, which I have served with honor for 35 years, or to undermine the integrity of our democratic process is an appalling and detestable lie.”
The impassioned response came after Senate Democrats raised questions about whether Sessions, a former Republican U.S. senator and an early supporter of Trump’s presidential campaign, privately met with Russia’s ambassador to Washington, Sergei Kislyak, at an April 2016 foreign policy event at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington.
Sessions said he was there for a speech by then-candidate Trump, but that he did not recall any private meetings or conversations with Russian officials at the event.
“I did not have any private meetings nor do I recall any conversations with any Russian officials at the Mayflower Hotel,” Sessions said. “I do not have any recollection of meeting or talking to the Russian ambassador or any other Russian officials. If any brief interaction occurred in passing with the Russian ambassador during that session, I do not remember it.”
In March, Sessions recused himself from the federal investigation into contacts between Russia and the presidential campaign after acknowledging that he had met twice last year with Kislyak. However, he said at the time that he did not mislead Congress because the encounters were part of his job as a U.S. senator, not as a Trump campaign representative.
Sessions faced criticism from Democratic senators for declining to answer their questions about conversations he had with Trump.
He would not say whether he and Trump had discussed Comey’s handling of the FBI’s Russia probe before the president fired him in May. He would not say either whether Trump had voiced concern about the attorney general’s decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigations. On this matter, Sessions said he did not step aside because he felt he was a subject of the investigation himself but rather because he felt he was required to by Justice Department rules.
Democratic Senator Martin Heinrich accused Sessions of violating his vow to tell the full truth, while Democratic Senator Ron Wyden told him: “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. “I am following the historic policies of the Department of Justice,” he said, adding he would not discuss confidential communications with the president.