Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday forcefully denied collusion with Russian officials ahead of the 2016 election and contended that he has maintained a safe distance from the probe into Moscow’s interference.
“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,” Sessions told the Senate Intelligence Committee. “Further, I have no knowledge of any such conversations by anyone connected to the Trump campaign.”
Sessions’ testimony comes at a tumultuous time for President Donald Trump, who faces accusations that he tried to influence the investigation into his campaign’s ties to the Kremlin. Trump’s abrupt ouster of Comey last month set into motion a sequence of events including the appointment of a special counsel, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, to oversee the probe.
In March, Sessions recused himself from that investigation following revelations that he was not forthcoming during his confirmation hearing about those two meetings with the Russian ambassador to the U.S.
The attorney general also said he did not remember a third meeting or conversation with Russian officials last year — beyond the two that he has acknowledged as part of his role as a then-senator. Sessions — a top Trump campaign advisor — said that if a “brief interaction” occurred, he does not “remember” it.
Former FBI Director James Comey told senators in a closed session Thursday about a “possible third interaction” between Sessions and “Russian officials” last year, according to NBC News.
Comey raised more questions on Thursday when he said the FBI was “aware of facts” about Sessions’ ability to be involved in the investigation that he could not say in an open hearing.
Sessions insisted Tuesday that he stepped back from the probe due only to a Justice Department regulation that employees “should not participate in investigations of a campaign if they have served as a campaign advisor.” The attorney general repeatedly said he could not talk about private conversations he had with Trump regarding Comey’s firing.
But Sessions said he had “confidence” in Mueller, amid reports that Trump may push for his removal.
When Trump fired Comey, the White House said Trump did so “based on the clear recommendations of both Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein” and Sessions. Critics have questioned why Sessions was involved in the decision, since he said he was distancing himself from the investigation.
Sessions said Tuesday that he and Rosenstein had a “clear view” that the FBI had “problems” and needed a fresh start. They were asked their opinions and felt comfortable putting them into writing, the attorney general said.
Trump contradicted the initial White House message last month when he said he would have fired Comey “regardless” of the Justice Department recommendation. Asked by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., if he agreed with Trump’s assessment, Sessions said he would let Trump speak for himself.
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