Photo Shows Jeff Sessions With Russian Ambassador

Attorney General Jeff Sessions testified today for the first time in an open, televised hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee that is investigating the Russians trying to affect the US presidential campaign previous year, allegedly to get Donald Trump elected.

The hearing lasted about 2 1/2 hours and included a number of testy exchanges.

Accusations of obstruction arose last month when Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. But many Democrats have accused Sessions of misleading the Senate Judiciary Committee during his January confirmation hearing.

When asked by Cotton whether the collusion of a sitting U.S. senator and a foreign ambassador would ever appear in one of these "fantastical situations", like a clandestine meeting at the Mayflower Hotel, Sessions used another literary reference to demonstrate what he sees as the ridiculousness of such a theory.

"Let me state this clearly: 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". "I was your colleague in this body for twenty years, at least some of you", he said, by way of explaining why any suggestion that he might "undermine the integrity of our democratic process is an appalling and detestable lie". Now you're not answering questions.

The first real fireworks flew nearly 90 minutes into the testimony. Sen.

Sessions refused to say whether he and Trump discussed FBI Director James Comey's handling of an investigation into possible collusion between Trump's campaign and Russian Federation during the election campaign before the president fired Comey on May 9.

When King asked Sessions for the legal basis for refusing to answer the committee's questions, the attorney general said it would be premature to deny the president a choice regarding executive privilege.

Sessions is now the only Trump official on the record, under oath, countering Comey's testimony last week under oath. "And that's troubling to me, I've got to tell you". "Wyden. There are none!" he said. Of course, uncertainty about what the President might want one to say must be particularly disorienting when the President himself tells lies. "This is a secret innuendo being leaked out there about me, and I don't appreciate it".

As for his own contacts with the Russians, we learned through his testimony that Mr. Sessions, the nation's top law enforcement official, is easily flustered by people asking straightforward questions. Sessions wasn't having any of that.

"I am not stonewalling", Sessions replied, saying he was simply following Justice Department policy not to discuss confidential communications with the president.

"Because you're invoking executive privilege", Heinrich interjected. He did not say he was using executive privilege, but rather adhering to longstanding tradition of Justice Department leaders not revealing private conversations with the president.

Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who sits on the intelligence committee, said he fears that administration officials will "blur the lines between executive privilege and classification, and over-classification". The questions, however, were mostly the same questions asked in different ways and were, as Senator Harris (D-CA) said, "predictable". Namely, they were upset with his very public handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe, which Sessions said was a "usurpation" of Justice Department authority. But that changed Tuesday, with a variety of Republicans coming to Sessions' (and the White House's) aide.

CORNISH: Republican senators like Tom Cotton of Arkansas offered more sympathetic questions. Yet they surely strategized together about Sessions' imminent appearance before the committee.

"Now, he's received new evidence", Sessions said on Fox Business. "I just finished Ignatius's book".

"Do you like Jason Bourne or James Bond movies?" asked Cotton.

"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", Sessions added.

"You raised your right hand here today and said you would solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth", Democratic Senator Martin Heinrich said.

SESSIONS: Thank you for saying that, Senator Cotton. As I have posted before, the USA president has the authority to fire the Federal Bureau of Investigation director, but not if the president obstructs justice in doing so. But he said Tuesday he anticipated the conflict of interest and effectively recused himself on his first day on the job, and was never briefed on the Russian Federation investigation. He said he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had long discussed their concerns with Comey's job performance.

"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", he said.

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