Sessions says he was never briefed on Russian interference

Alison Lebrun helps tie blue-and-white awareness ribbons along Springfield Pike near the family home of Otto Warmbier a 22-year-old University of Virginia undergraduate student who was imprisoned in North Korea in March 2016

Questions have swirled around Attorney General Jeff Sessions about his interactions with Russian officials while he was a Trump campaign surrogate and about what role he played in President Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey. Sessions frustrated Democrats when he refused to answer questions about conversations he had with President Trump on the issue. "He was preparing for the stop here today", said Sanders. Martin Heinrich and California Sen.

"Chairman, the witness should be allowed to answer the question", Sen. "You're impeding this investigation", fumed Sen.

He also declined to say if Trump opposed Sessions' decision to recuse himself from the Russian Federation probe in March, and whether Justice Department officials discussed possible presidential pardons of individuals being looked at in the probe. The attorney general later recused himself from the investigation into Trump campaign contacts with Russian Federation.

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".

FILE- In this September 6, 2013, file photo, Sergey Kislyak, Russia's ambassador to the US speaks with reporters at the Center for the National Interest in Washington.

"I am not stonewalling", Sessions said.

Sessions told the Senate Intelligence Committee he had a different reason for not answering certain questions: It's how such matters have been handled in the Justice Department for years. "I was standing there".

Democratic senators pressed him on the legal rationale for his refusal to discuss those private conversations, as Sessions acknowledged that Trump had not asserted executive privilege around the hearing.

Executive privilege is a power that can be claimed by a president or senior executive branch officials to withhold information from Congress or the courts to protect the executive branch decision-making process. Donald Trump didn't request that meeting as president-elect, Jim Comey did.

US intelligence agencies concluded in a report released in January that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an effort to interfere in the election to help Trump in part by hacking and releasing damaging emails about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Richard Burr, R-N.C., listen on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 13, 2017, as Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Trump has been coy as to whether tapes exist of that conversation, saying during a press conference on Friday that "I'll tell you about it in a very short period of time".

In his testimony, Sessions called allegations of campaign collusion "appalling" and "detestable". "He expressed concern to me about that private conversation". It had always been reported that Kislyak was in attendance for Trump's foreign policy speech, as were a handful of other foreign dignitaries.

That leaves Mr. Trump right where he was yesterday, furious over the ongoing distraction all this causes, and likely still unhappy with Sessions, who he's reportedly accused of not doing enough to defend him in the Russian Federation matter.

Comey testified last week that Sessions did not respond when he complained that he did not want to be left alone with President Donald Trump again. "Although a lot of people at the convention, it's conceivable", Sessions replied.

At a separate hearing Tuesday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein declared he'd seen no basis for dismissing Mueller, the former Federal Bureau of Investigation director he appointed as special counsel after Sessions' recusal.

CORNISH: Sessions testified before the same Senate committee that heard from James Comey just last week.

Feinstein: Mr. Rosenstein, in a statement to the House of Representatives, essentially told them he learned on May 8th President Trump meant to remove Director Comey.

The attorney general has acknowledged two meetings past year with Russia's ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak.

Comey testified last week that he did not tell Sessions that Trump had asked him to drop a probe into National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's contacts with Russian Federation because he suspected Sessions would soon need to recuse himself from the Russian Federation probe.

Lawmakers for weeks have demanded answers from Sessions, particularly about meetings he had last summer and fall with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak. But he denied reports that he had a third, previously undisclosed meeting with Kislyak at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington in April 2016.

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