WASHINGTON (CBS / AP / WVLT) — On Tuesday, June 13, at 2:45 p.m., U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions took the stand to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
CBS News reports Sessions announced his intention to testify on Saturday. He said he had decided to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee since members of the subcommittee has planned to inquire about the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Sessions had previously recused himself from the Russia investigation, saying that he had not disclosed two separate meetings with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak last year.
Topics in Sessions’ questioning could include those raised by former FBI Director James Comey during his testimony last Thursday. Those topics include Sessions’ role in Comey’s firing, as well as the circumstances of his recusal from the Russia investigation.
On Thursday, Comey said, “We also were aware of facts that I can’t discuss in an open setting, that would make his [Sessions’] continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic.”
Sessions is reportedly not expected to reveal details of his conversations with President Trump beyond what is publicly known. CBS reports that Sessions will deny that Comey ever asked for additional resources related to the Russia investigation.
Before Sessions began testifying Tuesday, Chairman Burr said he was hopeful that members of the committee will focus their questions on the Russian investigation.
Sen. Mark Warner began the questioning, first reflecting on last week’s testimony from James Comey. He began his line of questions before Sessions even took his oath by asking Sessions how he views his recusal from the Russian investigation.
“I’m concerned that the president still does not recognize the severity of the threat,” Warner began in his discussion of Russian meddling. “The American people deserve to know what’s going on here.”
At 2:55 p.m., Sessions took his oath and began his opening statement to the Senate Intelligence Committee. In his statement, Sessions testified that he did not have private meetings with Russian officials at the Mayflower Hotel.
“I have never met with any Russians or foreign officials discussing any kind of interference,” he said.
Sessions said before his recusal in early Februrary, he never accessed any classified information and has no knowledge of the investigation. He followed that statement by saying it was an “appalling, detestable lie” to say that he had colluded with the Russians at any point during the 2016 election.
The attorney general said that he recused himself because of a Department of Justice regulation, which he said states, “that Department employees should not participate in investigations of a campaign if they have served as a campaign advisor.”
He said that his recusal, however, “does not and cannot interfere” with his ability to oversee the Justice Department, including the FBI.
Regarding his recommendation that Comey be fired, Sessions 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.”
In reference to his unrecorded meetings with Russian officials, Sessions said, “I readily acknowledge these two meetings, and certainly not one thing happened that was improper in any one of those meetings.”
Sessions said that Comey expressed concerns about proper communications protocol with the White House, and that he responded to those concerns and encouraged him to talk about protocol with the White House.
Towards the end of his opening statement, Sessions said that President Trump’s agenda is to improve the lives of the American people, and that he shares that agenda with the president.
Sessions maintained that he did not remember a third meeting with Russians in March. He said he “immediately recalled” an encounter at the Republican National Convention and a meeting in his Senate office with Kislyak. He said he “never intended” not to disclose those meetings publicly. He said he gladly would have disclosed a third reported meeting if he remembered it.
Sessions said he has not had any interactions with Mueller since his appointment as special counsel. He also said that one of the internal emails in reference to his recusal from the investigation was sent to Comey by name.
In response to Comey’s request that Sessions not leave him alone with President Trump again, Sessions said that there’s “nothing wrong with the president” having a conversation with the director of the FBI, but that any conversations between a DOJ official and a Cabinet or White House official about ongoing investigation would be “problematic.”
Sessions testified that he had previously discussed Comey’s firing from the position of FBI director before he was confirmed as attorney general in January. He said that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had evaluated Comey’s job performance and noted that there were “some serious problems with it.” However, Sessions said that he personally had no conversations with Comey about his job performance.
Sessions said he did not remember any meetings with Russian Kislyak.