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At US Senate hearing, Jeff Sessions denies meeting with Russian officials

14 June 2017

He also provided resistance that may offer a boost to a crisis-weary White House that has been unable to shrug off the dark cloud over the Russian Federation investigation.

That's the take-away from a local political science professor after watching testimony Tuesday by Attorney General Jeff Sessions before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

In a public hearing live-streamed on Senate Intelligence Committee's website, Attorney General Jeff Sessions testified for the first time before Congress on Tuesday since he recused himself from the Justice Department's probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

In his dramatic appearance before former colleagues, Sessions contradicted former FBI Director James Comey's testimony from last week.

Sessions pushed back on several statements made by Comey in his testimony last week, including Comey's assertion that Sessions shrugged off his concerns about being left alone with Trump.

It was way back on January 10, during then Senator Sessions confirmation hearing to become Attorney General, that Senator Franken asked a key question: What would Sessions do as a Attorney General if there was evidence that anyone with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russians?

Sessions also refused to recount his private conversations with the president.

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He said he had no recollection of any conversations with Kislyak at a Washington hotel where both attended a Trump foreign policy speech. Patrick Leahy was not happy about.

"Many have suggested that my recusal is because I felt I was a subject of the investigation myself, that I may have done something wrong". That was not so, he said.

"I recused myself from any investigation into the campaign for president, but I did not recuse myself from defending my honour against scurrilous and false accusations". - Sen. Ron Wyden to Sessions.

However, another Republican, House Speaker Paul Ryan, told reporters, "I think the best case for the president is to be vindicated by allowing this investigation to go on fairly and independently". There are none, Sen. "Senator Wyden, I am not stonewalling", Sessions bristled. But he angrily denounced such claims as "secret innuendo", a likely reference to media accounts of a closed-door briefing lawmakers had last week with Comey that suggested the Federal Bureau of Investigation had been looking into whether another meeting had taken place.

Sen. Mark Warner, D., Va., asked the attorney general if he had confidence in former FBI Director Robert Mueller's appointment as special counsel to probe whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russian Federation.

"I'm not going to follow any orders unless I believe those are proper and appropriate orders", he said.

Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King grilled Sessions over his refusal to discuss whether President Donald Trump had discussed the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the election prior to his decision last month to fire Comey. He said he would agree to dismiss Mueller only if there were a legitimate basis to do so. Franken said that the Trump campaign and the administration have "collective amnesia" when it comes to meeting Russians, and they don't act like people who have nothing to hide.

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This was after a February meeting in which Comey said Trump told Sessions and others to leave the room before asking him to drop a probe into National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's contacts with Russian Federation.

At the same time, Sessions said the US doesn't have a sufficient strategy to deal with cyberattacks.

But Sessions on Tuesday declined to divulge much information about Comey's firing beyond what was already publicly known.

The attorney general said there were some things he couldn't talk about because of long standing policies about keeping communications with the president confidential.

Sessions says the president was not asserting executive privilege and that Sessions was simply protecting Trump's right to do so if he chooses. "I'm not sure what was in his mind, specifically".

They say he did not mislead Congress because the encounters were part of his job as a senator, not as a surrogate of the Trump campaign. New Mexico Senator Martin Heinrich accused Mr. Sessions of "obstructing" the committee and "impeding this investigation".

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At US Senate hearing, Jeff Sessions denies meeting with Russian officials