US attorney general dodges Trump questions, angering Democrats

15 Juin, 2017, 04:24 | Author: Claudine Rigal

Trump's decision to fire Comey, a move recommended by Sessions despite having already recused himself from the Russian Federation probe, prompted critics to charge that the president was trying to interfere with a criminal investigation.

Earlier in the hearing on Tuesday, Sessions denied that assertion, saying he did not recall meeting with Kislyak at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC, where Trump gave a foreign-policy speech previous year.

But his refusal to answer questions about his conversations with President Donald Trump, particularly whether they discussed the reasons for Comey's firing in an Oval Office meeting the day before the dismissal, was most disturbing.

The suggestion that he colluded with Russians in the 2016 presidential election "is an appalling and detestable lie", Sessions said during his testimony on Tuesday, June 13, 2017, addressing whether he met privately with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at an April 2016 foreign policy event at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington.

Earlier, Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., asked Sessions why, after recusing himself from the Russian Federation inquiry, he signed a letter last month recommending that President Trump fire Comey.

Astonishingly, Sessions asserted that nothing is "problematic" about Trump pulling the FBI director into a private meeting amid an investigation involving his campaign.

Last week, Comey told the Senate committee that Trump had fired him to undermine the FBI's investigation of the Russian Federation matter. His insistence that there was no reason to recuse himself from the dismissal of Comey because it was due to Comey's improper handling of the Hillary Clinton's email case and not to end the Russian Federation investigation, as Trump himself said in a TV interview, was just not believable.

Sessions charged that "these false attacks, the innuendos and the leaks, you can be sure, will not intimidate me" and said that in the end, the attacks on him have "only strengthened my resolve to fulfill my duty". The investigation is now being led by a special counsel, former FBI Director Robert Mueller. He did allow for the possibility that he encountered him in a reception that he said was attended by a couple dozen people, though he said he had no specific recollection of that.

Much of Tuesday's testimony centered on why Trump chose to fire Comey - the official Department of Justice version is at odds with the president's televised explanation - but Sessions refused to describe his conversations with Trump on the issue.

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The committee shortly after said the hearing would be open.

Sessions, of course, was appearing before the committee in regard to the ongoing investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election.

He disputed that his involvement in Comey's firing violated the recusal.

Comey was overseeing thousands of investigations at the time of his firing, Sessions argued, so the fact that he was recused from just one of them shouldn't mean he couldn't make a judgment call on Comey's leadership abilities. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., of stonewalling, Sessions disagreed and said, "I'm following historic policies of the Department of Justice".

Harris followed up, "Sir, I am not asking about you the principle". Sessions replied "I think so", and said he had discussed it with his staff.

Sessions made clear a couple of times that he was not claiming executive privilege for himself, but rather that he was protecting the president's right, "if he chooses", to later assert the privilege.

SESSIONS: Senator, I'm protecting the president's constitutional right by not giving it away before he has a chance to review it. "Further, I have no knowledge of any such conversations by anyone connected with the Trump campaign", Sessions said.

Democrats were unhappy with Sessions declining to testify about his discussions with Trump, citing the longstanding policy. He was being asked about Comey's testimony.

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