Attorney General Jeff Sessions testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee Tuesday, calling any allegations he colluded with associates of the Russian government during the 2016 presidential election “an appalling and detestable lie.”
In his attempt to set the record straight about any meetings he may have had with members of the Russian government, the attorney general called out Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., and the question Franken posed during Sessions’ confirmation hearing in January.
During that hearing, Franken made reference to a CNN report that came out just prior to Sessions’ testimony alleging the intelligence community provided documents to then-President-elect Donald Trump that claimed “there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump’s surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government.”
Franken then asked Sessions what he would do if he learned the report was true?
Sessions replied, “Senator Franken, I’m not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians and I’m unable to comment on it.”
Critics of Sessions claim he wasn’t truthful in his original response, citing news of two meetings Sessions had with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak.
In Tuesday’s hearing, Sessions said he wanted to clarify what he meant by that response to what he described as a “rambling” question from Franken after six hours of testimony that included “dramatic” new allegations.
“I was taken aback by that explosive allegation which he said was being reported as breaking news that very day, in which I had not heard,” Sessions said. “I wanted to refute that immediately. Any suggestion that I was part of such an activity.”
Sessions said he believes his answer was a “fair and correct response” to the allegation that “surrogates” had been meeting with Russians on a regular basis.
“It simply did not occur to me to go further than the context and to list any conversations that I may have had with Russians in routine situations as I had many routine meetings with other foreign officials,” Sessions said.
Two such routine meetings, Sessions said, were with Kislyak. Sessions said he met with the ambassador in September in his senate office and briefly after a speech Sessions gave during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
But because those meetings did not involve campaign issues — the September meeting was described by Justice Department officials as being related to Sessions’ position on the Senate Armed Services panel — Sessions said he did not believe they were related to the question Franken asked.
Also in his opening statement, Sessions denied he or any member of the Trump campaign ever had any conversations with anyone connected to the Russian government regarding “any type of interference with any campaign or election in the United States.”
During Tuesday’s testimony, Sessions was asked about testimony provided Thursday in closed session by former FBI Director James Comey alleging a third meeting between Sessions and Kislyak at an event at a Washington D.C. hotel last year.
“I guess I can say I possibly did have a meeting, but I still do not recall it,” Sessions said. “I didn’t have any communications with him before or after that event.”
Sessions later admitted that such an encounter “may have occurred,” but that “I don’t remember that it did.”