(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS AND REUTERS)
The attorney general acknowledged that Trump hadn’t evoked “executive privilege” — legalese for an ability to protect private conversations with the President — but still refused to answer any questions from senators regarding his conversations with Trump, including whether he and Trump had discussed the Russia investigation when talking about firing Comey.
Sessions’ repeated dodges and refusals to answer questions led to building frustration from Democrats throughout the hearing.
“You’re not answering questions. You’re impeding the investigation,” Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) said. “You are obstructing the congressional investigation by not answering questions.”
“I’m protecting the right of the President to assert it if he chooses” to executive privilege in the future, Sessions said.
Sessions also insisted he had every right to be involved with Trump’s decision to fire Comey, even though the FBI head was leading the Russia investigation Sessions had been forced to step away from.
“The scope of my recusal, however, does not and cannot interfere with my ability to oversee the Department of Justice, including the FBI,” he said.
Sessions refused, however, to offer further explanation for his support in firing the former FBI director even though he’d recused himself from the investigation into whether President Trump’s team colluded with Russia to meddle in the 2016 election.
And he used carefully selected language to give himself an out about a potential unreported third meeting with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., saying only that he did not “have any recollection of meeting or talking to the Russian Ambassador or any other Russian officials” during a Trump event at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., during the campaign.
Later, he muddied up that denial even further.
“I could say that I possibly had a meeting but I still do not recall it,” he said.
“I don’t recall” was his favorite phrase of the day, as Sessions fell back on the pat answer time and again throughout the day.
While he was evasive in his answers, Sessions was fiery off the bat in defending his character against what he painted as “scurrilous and false allegations.”
“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,” he said.
He claimed that he’d planned to recuse himself from the Russia investigation from the start, even though he had refused to commit to do so during his confirmation hearing, saying he “not aware of a basis to recuse myself,” and made no moves towards recusal until after he’d been caught in a lie about his previous contacts with Russian officials.
“If merely being a supporter of the President during the campaign warranted recusal from involvement in any matter involving him, then most typical presidential appointees would be unable to conduct their duties,” Sessions said in his January confirmation hearing. “I am not aware of a basis to recuse myself from such matters. If a specific matter arose where I believed my impartiality might reasonably be questioned, I would consult with Department ethics officials regarding the most appropriate way to proceed.”
Sessions even waited days to announce his recusal after the news of his previously undisclosed meetings with Russia’s ambassador came to light.
The attorney general blamed his false testimony that he hadn’t met with Russian officials, when it turned out he did at least twice, on a misunderstanding of what Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) was asking him at the time, though he went much further to declare that he hadn’t met with any Russians when that wasn’t what Franken had asked.
Sessions said he has “confidence” in Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the FBI probe into Russia. He said that he hadn’t talked to Trump about him after one of Trump’s friends said he was considering firing the special counsel on Monday, but stated he didn’t “think it would be appropriate” to fire Mueller.
While he defended his role in firing Comey and claimed there were performance issues, he repeatedly refused to discuss whether he’d recommended it or if Trump had asked him to come up with a rationale for a decision he’d already made, repeatedly saying he wouldn’t talk about any private conversations with the President.
“I’d come to the conclusion that a fresh start was appropriate and did not mind putting that in writing,” he said, though he admitted he didn’t discuss any job performance problems with Comey before the firing.
And he said while it “appears” Russia interfered in the 2016 election, he said he’d never asked about it at the DOJ, a stunning disinterest in the attack on democracy.
He returned to a favorite answer when Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) asked him whether he’d confronted Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak about Russia’s meddling in the election when they met twice last year: “I don’t recall.”