The U.S. Attorney General denounced as a “detestable lie” charges that he had been party to any Russian election interference during the 2016 campaign, as Jeff Sessions sidestepped a number of questions from Democrats in a politically charged hearing on Russia’s election actions.
“I have never met with or had any conversation with any Russians or any foreign officials concerning any type of interference, with any campaign or election in the United States,” Sessions testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
As with many items in the political arena, the two parties saw things much differently in this hearing. Here is some of what went on:
1. Sessions sternly defends record, denies any wrongdoing. Five days after questions were raised by former FBI Director James Comey, the Attorney General defended his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, denied that he had been involved in any wrongdoing, and pushed back against his former Democratic colleagues in the Senate. At one point, the normally soft-spoken Sessions tangled with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), decrying “secret innuendo” from Comey and other critics.
2. Sessions says Comey firing was all about Clinton emails. Faced with statements by President Trump that he fired Comey in part because of the Russia probe, Sessions stood by his argument that Comey had earned negative reviews due to the “stunning” way he handled the Hillary Clinton email investigation, saying Comey never should have spoken publicly about it during the 2016 election campaign. Democrats pressed Sessions repeatedly to say if he had discussed Russia and Comey with Mr. Trump, but didn’t get very far about those conversations between Sessions and the President.
3. Democrats not satisfied with Sessions answers. Unable to shake anything out of the trees, Democrats vented much of their frustration at the Attorney General, saying that Sessions had no basis to refuse to answer questions from Senators. “You’re impeding this investigation,” fumed Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM). But Democrats got nowhere with their protests, as they tried to pin down Sessions on whether he was invoking executive privilege (he was not), or what legal reasoning he was using to not answer.
4. Sessions says he’s never received a Russia briefing. During his testimony, the Attorney General was asked if he had been given some of the details about the “active measures” used by Russia to interfere in the U.S. elections – his answer was, no, as Sessions said he had stayed away from anything to do with the matter, to honor his recusal as Attorney General. “I only know what I’ve read in the paper,” Sessions told Sen. Angus King (I-ME).
5. Republicans trumpet no evidence of Trump-Russia collusion. While Democrats complained about a lack of answers, Republicans countered that the Sessions hearing showed a lack of evidence that tied the Trump Campaign to anything nefarious involving Russia. During his time, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) accused Democrats of going down all sorts of “rabbit trails,” but not getting close to showing any evidence that President Trump had done anything wrong.