Jeff Sessions testifies: Refuses to say whether he spoke to Trump about Comey’s handling of Russia investigation – Washington Post

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions repeatedly refused to answer questions from senators Tuesday about his private conversations with President Trump, including whether he spoke to Trump about former FBI director James B. Comey’s handling of the investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential race.

In a number of testy exchanges with members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sessions said he would not answer many of their questions because of a long-standing Justice Department policy that he said protects private conversations between Cabinet secretaries and the president.

The attorney general confirmed elements of Comey’s dramatic testimony before the same panel last week while disputing others. Sessions said he was in an Oval Office meeting in February with Comey and Trump when the president said he wanted to speak to Comey privately — and he acknowledged that Comey came to talk to him the next day about the meeting.

At other times, though, Sessions frequently said he couldn’t recall specifics, particularly when asked about his meetings with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign.

Above all, Sessions, who served as a senator from Alabama before taking the attorney general post, tried to clear his name and win the sympathy of his former colleagues.

(Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

He opened his testimony with a fiery assertion that he never had any conversations with Russians about “any type of interference” in the 2016 presidential election.

“I was your colleague in this body for 20 years,” Sessions said. “The suggestion that I participated in any collusion . . . is an appalling and detestable lie.”

The attorney general seemed to understand the import of each of his words as the highest-ranking Trump administration official so far to testify publicly on the FBI investigation and Comey’s firing. During one line of questioning by Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), he told her in a flash of anger not to rush his answers because “you’ll accuse me of lying” and said she was making him “nervous.”

Sessions took particular aim at news reports about a possible meeting he had with a Russian official during an April 2016 event at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, where Trump gave a pro-Russia speech. He acknowledged being at the event and said he had conversations with people there, but did not remember any conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

“If any brief interaction occurred in passing with the Russian ambassador during that reception, I do not remember it,” Sessions said.

He said that he had met twice with Kislyak — once during the Republican National Convention and once in his Senate office — and that he did not disclose that during his confirmation hearing. He said, however, that he did not remember any other meetings with Russian officials during the 2016 presidential campaign and did not remember any conversations with Russian officials about the Trump campaign.

“Certainly not one thing happened that was improper in any one of those meetings,” Sessions said.

(Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post)

When asked to explain why he wrongly claimed in his confirmation hearing that he never met with Russians, Sessions said he was flustered by the question from Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) after many hours of testimony.

The attorney general has since recused himself from the Russia investigation — a decision he sought to cast Tuesday as resulting from his role as an adviser on the Trump campaign, rather than because of any inappropriate interaction with Russian officials.

“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.

But Sessions’s answers seemed to contradict each other at times, particularly when it came to his recusal.

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