Attorney general, who has been a major figure in the Russia-James Comey saga, answers questions before the Senate’s select committee on intelligence
Attorney general Jeff Sessions’ testimony has concluded. Here’s what we learned:
The hearing is wrapping up. Burr offers Warner a closing comment. Warner thanks Sessions for taking the Russia tampering seriously. “There doesn’t seem to be a recognition of the seriousness of this threat. It is of enormous concern.”
Burr thanks Sessions for answering questions about his Mayflower meeting with Kislyak, his recusal from the Russian inquiry and his conversations with James Comey.
Senator John McCain asks whether Sessions raised concerns about the Russian invasion of Ukraine at his meetings with the Russians.
Sessions says he did. “It was a bit testy,” he allows.
Kamala Harris, Democrat of California. She notes that Sessions has repeatedly said, “To the best of my recollection.”
Did he refresh his memory with written documents like calendars and notes?
Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, a Republican.
His question: Did Donald Trump or any of his associates collude with Russia in hacking those emails and making them public? No Democrats ask that. Maybe because there’s no evidence of any such collusion.
Joe Manchin, Democrat of Virginia, has the ball. Would you go into a closed session?
Sessions: “I’m not sure. The executive privilege is not waived by going in camera or in closed session…. it’s often very problematic to have persons not cooperating… which may or may not be a factor in going into closed session.”
James Lankford, Republican of Oklahoma, is up.
He joins the debate just finished, saying long precedent, including that established by Obama attorney general Eric Holder, showed some conversations between the attorney general and president are protected.
Angus King, independent of Maine. He gets into a real Catch-22 conversation with Sessions about how Sessions can refuse to talk about certain subjects as if Trump had invoked executive privilege when Trump has not done so. Sessions says Trump might do so.
King: What is the basis of your refusal to answer these questions [about his conversations with the president]? What is the legal basis?
Notes from Twitter
Pres. Trump aboard Air Force One watched Attorney Gen.Sessions testify during 90 minute flight to Milwaukee, aide tells @jeffzeleny
Sessions following Coats and Rogers precedent in acting as if POTUS has blocked some testimony via executive privilege without saying so
Sessions won’t say if he discussed Russia inquiry w Trump. Yet he discussed firing Comey with Trump, by his telling; Trump says bc of Russia
Sessions said the president asked to put in writing Comey opinion. Rosenstein today said he couldn’t answer same q because of investigation.
Nobody has asked Sessions whether he offered to resign.
Next up is Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri.
Did you have a room at the Mayflower hotel, he asks?
Sessions is back to talking about his concerns about Comey’s handling of the Clinton emails investigation.
The FBI does not decide whether to prosecute, Sessions says, calling it “a pretty breathtaking usurpation.”
Democrat Martin Heinrich of New Mexico is next.
He accuses Sessions of “impeding this investigation” by not answering questions about his conversations with the president.
Collins noted that Comey testified that he did not want to speak with Sessions about his one-on-one with Trump because he, Comey, knew Sessions would be recusing himself.
Does Sessions think Comey needed to bring his concerns to someone else?
Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, focuses on the order of actions in the Comey firing.
Sessions says he spoke with Rosenstein about the need to fire Comey before either was confirmed.
Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, gives a speech against stonewalling. Then he goods in a good
Sessions: “I am not stonewalling. I am following the historic policies of the department of justice…
Marco Rubio asks if Sessions remembers Trump asking him to leave the Oval Office. Sessions won’t say. But:
“I do recall being one of the last ones to leave.”
Sessions returns to Comey’s handling of the Clinton emails matter:
That was a clear view of mine and of DAG Rosenstein… that we had problems there, and it was my best judgment that a fresh start at the FBI was the appropriate thing to do. .. when Mr Comey declined the Clinton prosecution, that was really a usurpation of the authority of the federal prosecutors in the department of justice. It was a stunning development… that was a thunderous thing.
He also commented at some length… on the Clinton prosecution, which you should not do.”
Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California and the former chairwoman of the committee.
When you wrote your letter to fire Comey, did you know that the president had already decided?
I would say that I believe it’s been made public that the president asked us our opinion, it was given, and he asked us to put it in writing, and I don’t know how much more he said about it than that… I would let his words speak for themselves.”
Senator James Risch, Republican of Idaho, is up. A friendly interrogator.
He asks Sessions whether he can say that he never saw or heard a conversation in Trump world about colluding with the Russians.
ATTORNEY GENERAL JEFF SESSIONS PREPARED REMARKS TO THE UNITED STATES SENATE SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE
Warner is asking about Comey’s idea that Sessions lingered in the Oval Office after the president directed him to leave, out of a sense of impropriety. Comey said Trump went on to direct him to shelve the Michael Flynn inquiry.
“We were there. I was standing there, and without revealing any conversation that took place… I did depart, I believe everyone else did depart, and Comey was sitting in front of the president’s desk and they were talking…” Sessions replies.
Sessions is back to the non-meeting with Kislyak at the Mayflower Hotel.
With regard to the two encounters, I came there not knowing that he was going to be there… I didn’t have any communications with him before or after that event.
Sessions says he can’t discuss conversations with the president.
“It’s longstanding policy of the department of justice not to comment on conversations the attorney general has had with the president of the United States…that really are founded in the coequal powers of the branches…
Warner is up. Does Sessions have confidence in Mueller?
“I have confidence in Mr Mueller, but I am not going to discuss any hypotheticals…”
Sessions says he hasn’t been in touch with Mueller.
Burr now asks Sessions about being kicked out of the Oval Office. Sessions has admitted that Comey informed Sessions about how uncomfortable that was.
Sessions is talking about his decision to recuse himself.
He says he did so in compliance with justice department rules. Which he proceeds to read. In short, you can’t oversee an investigation into a campaign or candidate if you were “a principal adviser.” Good rule!
Burr is up first. He asks about the Mayflower hotel speech by Trump that both Sessions and Kislyak attended. The question is whether an undisclosed meeting between Sessions and Kislyak occurred there.
Sessions testified he did not remember Kislyak was there. “But I understand he was there… in fact I recently saw a video of him coming into the room,” Sessions says.
Sessions closes with some stats about opioid overdoses (taken from the pages of the failing New York Times!) and says the criminals better look out because law enforcement is coming.
While he recused himself from the Russia investigation, Sessions says, “I did not recuse myself from defending my honor against scurrilous and false allegations.”
Now Sessions is on to his recusal.
“I was sworn in as AG on Thursday 9 February. The very next day, as I promised… I met with career department officials.. to discuss some things publicly reported… from that point, February 10 until I announced my formal recusal on March 2,” he was 1/ never briefed and 2/ did not access any information about the investigation, he says.
Sessions says he appreciates the committee’s effort to investigate the Russia election tampering.
“I encourage any effort to get to the bottom” of the tampering, he says.
Warner points out that Sessions said at his confirmation hearings that he had had no communications with the Russians, when in fact he had. Warner hopes Sessions will provide diaries and calendars as evidence of the extent and limit of his meetings.
Warner then turns to Comey’s testimony last week, in which Comey expressed concern that Trump would lie about their meetings and that Trump fired him over the Russia inquiry.
Vice-chairman Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, is up. He says thanks to Sessions for coming.
But he expresses concern that Sessions was originally scheduled to testify before the House and Senate Appropriations committee.
Burr says that in its Russia inquiry the committee has interviewed 35 individuals including former homeland security secretary (under Obama) Jeh Johnson.
Chairman Richard Burr, the Republican from North Carolina, says the committee recognizes the “gravity of our investigation” into Russia but at the same time is keeping up its oversight of the intelligence community.
“I’ve said repeatedly that I do not believe what the committee does should be done in public, but I also recognize the gravity of the current investigation… it is for that reason that the committee has now held its 10th open hearing of 2017.”
Here now is Sessions. He swoops in for a kiss from his wife, Mary, on the way to his chair. Shakes hands with the committee leaders and takes a seat.
We remember getting pretty pumped for some of those Snowden-era James Clapper / Keith Alexander / John Brennan episodes… but fair enough:
America has gotten pumped for more congressional hearings in the last ten days than in the last ten years.
Your senators are taking their seats. At least Marco Rubio is.
Room is hushed. Any moment now.
We’ve told you what questions for Sessions we’d like to hear.
How about you? What would you ask the AG?
Hello and welcome to our live blog coverage of attorney general Jeff Sessions’ testimony before the Senate select committee on intelligence. It’s the same committee that questioned former FBI director James Comey last week.
Sessions takes the hot seat at 2.30pm ET. We’ll have a live video stream atop the blog.
WYDEN: Let me turn to the Attorney General. In your statement, you said that you and the FBI leadership team decided not to discuss the president’s actions with Attorney General Sessions, even though he had not recused himself.
What was it about the Attorney General’s own interactions with the Russians, or his behavior with regard to the investigation, that would have led the entire leadership of the FBI to make this decision?