Attorney General Jeff Sessions Testifies Before the Senate Intelligence Committee

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The Straight Scoop:

  • Said “I have never met with or had any conversations with any Russians or any foreign officials concerning any type of interference with any campaign or election. Further, I have no knowledge of any such conversations by anyone connected to the Trump campaign…and 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.”
  • Said “Importantly, I recused myself not because of any asserted wrongdoing on my part during the campaign, but because a Department of Justice regulation, 28 CFR 45.2, required it. That regulation states, in effect, that Department employees should not participate in investigations of a campaign if they have served as a campaign advisor.”
  • Said “I will finish with this. I recused myself from any investigation into the campaigns for President, but I did not recuse myself from defending my honor against scurrilous and false allegations. At all times throughout the course of the campaign, the confirmation process, and since becoming Attorney General, I have dedicated myself to the highest standards.”
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The Left Spin

  • Jeff Sessions’ explanation for firing Comey just doesn’t make sense (CNN)
  • Jeff Sessions is trying to distract you from the heart of the Russia scandal (Vox)
  • Sessions accused of impeding investigation by refusing to answer questions (Think Progress)
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The Right Spin

  • Echo Chamber: Senators Ask Jeff Sessions Same Question About Russians 12 Times (Breitbart)
  • Krauthammer: Sessions ‘Exposed the Absurdity’ of Trump-Russia Case (Fox News Insider)

More Straight Scoop

From written statement:

  • Said “I appreciate the Committee’s critically important efforts to investigate Russian interference with our democratic process. Such interference can never be tolerated and I encourage every effort to get to the bottom of any such allegations..”
  • Said “I did not have any private meetings nor do I recall any conversations with any Russian officials at the Mayflower Hotel. I did not attend any meetings at that event.”
  • Said “But whether I ever attended a reception where the Russian Ambassador was also present is entirely beside the point of this investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 campaigns”
  • Said “there is the assertion that I did not answer Senator Franken’s question honestly at my confirmation hearing. That is false.”
  • Said “He asked me a rambling question that included dramatic, new allegations that the United States intelligence community had advised President-elect Trump that ‘there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump’s surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government.’ “
  • Said “I replied, “Senator Franken, I’m not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I didn’t have – did not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment on it.” “
  • Said “It simply did not occur to me to go further than the context of the question and list any conversations I may have had with Russians in routine situations, as I had with numerous other foreign officials.”
  • Said “On the same day, we provided that reporter with the information related to the meeting I and my staff had held in my Senate office with Ambassador Kislyak, as well as the brief encounter in July after a speech that I had given during the convention in Cleveland, Ohio. I also provided the reporter a list of all 25 foreign ambassador meetings I had held during 2016. In addition, I provided supplemental testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee to explain this. I readily acknowledged these two meetings. Certainly nothing improper occurred.”
  • Said “Let me also explain clearly the circumstances of my recusal from the investigation into the Russian interference with the 2016 election. I was sworn in as Attorney General on Thursday, February 9th. The very next day, I met with career Department officials, including a senior ethics official, to discuss some things publicly reported in the press and that might have some bearing on the issue of recusal. From that point, February 10th, until I announced my formal recusal on March 2nd, I was never briefed on any investigative details and did not access information about the investigation…As such, I have no knowledge about this investigation beyond what has been publicly reported, and I have taken no action with regard to any such investigation.”
  • Said “On the date of my formal recusal, my Chief of Staff sent an email to the heads of the relevant departments, including by name to Director Comey of the FBI, to instruct them to inform their staffs of this recusal and to advise them not to brief me or involve me in any such matters. And in fact, they have not.”
  • Said ” It is absurd, frankly, to suggest that a recusal from a single specific investigation would render an Attorney General unable to manage the leadership of the various Department of Justice law enforcement components that conduct thousands of investigations.”
  • Said “Following a routine morning threat briefing, Mr. Comey spoke to me and my Chief of Staff. While he did not provide me with any of the substance of his conversation with the President, Mr. Comey expressed concern about the proper communications protocol with the White House and with the President. I responded to his comment by agreeing that the FBI and Department of Justice needed to be careful to follow Department policies regarding appropriate contacts with the White House. Mr. Comey had served in the Department of Justice for the better part of two decades, and I was confident that Mr. Comey understood and would abide by the Department’s well-established rules governing any communications with the White House about ongoing investigations.”
  • Said “These false attacks, the innuendo, and the leaks, you can be sure, will not intimidate me. In fact, these events have only strengthened my resolve to fulfill my duty to reduce crime, and to support our federal, state, and local law enforcement officers who work our streets every day.”
  • Said “Together, we are telling the gangs, the cartels, the fraudsters, and the terrorists—we are coming after you. Every one of our citizens, no matter who they are or where they live, has the right to be safe in their homes and communities. And I will not be deterred, and I will not allow this great Department to be deterred from its vital mission.”

Responses to questions:

  • BURR: On March 2nd, 2017, you recused yourself in the investigation being conducted by the FBI and the Department of Justice. What are the specific reasons that you chose to recuse yourself?

    SESSIONS: The specific reason, chairman, is a cfr code of federal regulations put out by the Department of Justice. Part of the Department of Justice rules and it says this. I will read from it. 28 cfr 45.2. Unless authorized, no employee shall participate in a criminal investigation or prosecution if he had a personal or political relationship with any person involved in the conduct of an investigation that goes on to say for political campaign and it says if you have a close identification with an elected official or candidate arising from service as a principal adviser, you should not participate in an investigation of that campaign. Many have suggested that my recusal is because I felt I was a subject of the investigation myself, I may have done something wrong. This is the reason I recused myself: I felt I was required to under the rules of the Department of Justice and as a leader of the Department of Justice, I should comply with the rules obviously.”

  • WARNER: To your knowledge, have any Department of Justice officials been involved with conversations about any possibility of presidential pardons about any of the individuals involved with the Russia investigation?
    WARNER: Just so I can understand, is the basis of that unwilling to answer based on executive privilege?
    SESSIONS: It’s a long standing policy. The department of justice not to comment on conversations that the attorney general had with the president of the united States for confidential reasons that rounded in the coequal branch.
    WARNER: Just so I understand, is that mean you claim executive privilege?
    SESSIONS: I’m not claiming executive privilege because that’s the president’s power and I have no power there.
    SESSIONS: Mr. Chairman, I’m not able to comment on conversations with high officials within the white house. That would be a violation of the communications rule that I have to —
    WARNER: So you were his superior and there were fairly harsh things said about Director Comey. You never thought it was appropriate to raise those concerns before he was absolutely terminated by the president?
    SESSIONS: I did not do so. A memorandum was prepared by the deputy attorney general who evaluated his performance and noted serious problems with it.
    WARNER: You agreed with those?
    SESSIONS: I agreed with those. In fact senator Warner, we talked about it before I was confirmed and before he was confirmed. It’s something we both agreed to that a fresh start at the FBI was probably the best thing.
    SESSIONS: Not to my recollection. I would say with regard to the two encounters, one at the Mayflower hotel that you refer to, I came here not knowing he was going to be there. I didn’t have any communications with him before or after that event. Likewise at the effect at the convention went off the convention grounds to a college campus for an event.
  • WYDEN: The question is, Mr. Comey said there were matters with respect to the recusal that were problematic and he couldn’t talk about them. What are they?
    SESSIONS: Why don’t you tell me. There are none, Senator Wyden. There are none. I can tell you that for absolute certainty. This is a secret innuendo being leaked out there about me, and I don’t appreciate it. I try to give my best and truthful answers to any committee I’ve appeared before, and it’s really — people are suggesting through innuendo that I have been not honest about matters, and I’ve tried to be honest.
  • KING: Do you believe the Russians interfered with the 2016 elections?
    SESSIONS: It appears so. The intelligence community seems to be united in that, but I have to tell you, senator king, I know nothing but what I’ve read in the paper. I’ve never received any details, briefing on how hacking occurred or how information was alleged to have influenced the campaigns.
  • LANKFORD: The National Interest…stated this in writing. “As the host, the Center for National Interest decided whom to invite and then issued the invitations. The Trump campaign did not determine or approve the invitation list. Guests of the event included both Republicans and Democrats with some of the lighter supporting other candidates. Most of the guests Washington-based foreign policy experts and journalists, Center for National Interest invited Russian Ambassador Kislyak and several other ambassadors to the speech. We regularly invite ambassadors and other foreign representatives to our events to facilitate dialogue… Our recollection is, the interaction with Mr. Trump and Ambassador Kislyak was limited to polite exchange and pleasantries. Appropriate on such occasions, we are not aware of any conversations with Ambassador Kislyak and Senator Jeff Sessions at the reception. However, in a small group setting like this one, we consider it unlikely that anyone would have engaged a meaningful private conversation without drawing attention from others present. Do you have any reason to disagree with that?
    SESSIONS: No, I think that’s a very fair description of the reception situation.
  • SEN. TOM COTTON: Well, I am on this side of the dious and I could say a very simple question that should be asked. I am on this side of the dious, so a very simple question that should be asked is: “Did Donald Trump or any of his associates in the campaign collude with Russia in hacking those e-mails and releasing them to the public? That’s where we started six months ago. We have now heard from six of the eight Democrats on this committee, and to my knowledge. I don’t think a single one of them asked that question. They have gone down lots of other rabbit trails but not that question. Maybe that is because Jim Comey said last week as he said to Donald Trump on three times he assured him he was not under investigation. Maybe it’s because multiple Democrats on this committee have stated they have seen no evidence thus far after six months of our investigation and ten months or 11 months of an FBI investigation of any such collusion.
    COTTON: Do you like Jason Bourne or James Bond movies?
    SESSIONS: No, yes, I do.
    COTTON: Have you ever ever in any of these fantastical situations heard of a plot line so ridiculous that a sitting United States senator and an ambassador of a foreign government colluded at an open setting with hundreds of other people to pull off the greatest caper in the history of espionage?
    SESSIONS: Thank you for saying that, Senator Cotton. It’s just like through the looking glass. I mean, what is this? I explained how in good faith I said I had not met with Russians, because they were suggesting I as a surrogate had been meeting continuously with Russians. I said I didn’t meet with them and now, the next thing you know I’m accused of some reception plotting some sort of influence campaign for the American election. It’s just beyond my capability to understand, and I really appreciate, Mr. Chairman, the opportunity to at least to be able to say publicly I didn’t participate in that and know nothing about it.
    COTTON: Let’s turn to the potential crimes that we know have happened: leaks of certain information. Here’s a short list of what I have. The contents of alleged transcripts of alleged conversations between Mr. Flynn and Mr. Kislyak, the contents of President Trump’s phone calls with Australian and Mexican leaders, the content of Mr. Trump’s meetings with the Russian foreign minister and the ambassador, the leak of Manchester bombing — the Manchester bombing suspect’s identity and crime scene photos and last week within 20 minutes of this committee meeting in a classified setting is with Jim Comey, the basis of Mr. Comey’s innuendo was. Are these leaks serious threats to our national security, and is the Department of Justice taking them with the appropriate degree of seriousness and investigating and ultimately going to prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law?
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