Attorney General Jeff Sessions appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee Tuesday, fielding a litany of questions about Russia, former FBI director James Comey, and the 2016 election.
In a sometimes tense, heated debate over the 2016 election, the committee’s vice chair, Sen. Mark Warner noted, “This is not about re-litigating 2016. This is about making sure Russia does not interfere with our elections going forward.”
In his opening statement, Sessions launched a strident defense of his and the administration’s conduct regarding Russia, describing stories about dubious dealings as “absurd” and “detestable lies.”
Sessions was very clear about his feelings toward the former FBI director.
This is not about re-litigating 2016. This is about making sure Russia does not interfere with our elections going forward.Sen. Mark Warner, Vice Chair of Senate Intelligence Committee
In answering questions from the committee, Sessions noted, “Myself and acting deputy director Rosenstein agreed that significant problems persisted in the FBI and a fresh start was desperately needed.”
Sessions said James Comey had a “lack of discipline” that infected the entire FBI, and usurping the authority of the Department of Justice over the Clinton email scandal was a “stunning abuse of power.”
Sessions noted that the leaks coming from the intelligence community needed to end immediately. Sessions said he was working to “restore the classic discipline in the DOJ. The department needs to get back to the basics.”
Protecting The President
Some of the tensest and most heated debates occurred when senators accused the attorney general of “shielding the truth” by invoking executive privilege. The attorney general did not want to answer certain questions that involved confidential conversations with the president.
One senator in particular, Sen. Martin Herinrich, said of Sessions, “You’re not answering questions, you’re impeding this investigation! Stop obstructing this congressional investigation!”
Sen. Kamala Harris of California peppered Sessions with legal protection questions.
“It’s unacceptable that Sessions — the top law enforcement official in the country — cannot name his legal basis for evading questions,” she said afterwards.
But Senator James Lankford backed Sessions’ privilege, saying this was nothing new. He mentioned that former “Attorney General Eric Holder proved so difficult in getting information from his communications with President Obama, the courts ultimately had to intervene.”
What do the senators on the committee know that Jeff Sessions does not?
Nearly every senator, save a few, noted the impact Russia had on our democracy. And yet, as Sessions maintained, they haven’t provided any incontrovertible evidence that such things happened.
“The Intelligence community has stated as such. I haven’t seen concrete proof of meddling. And I have never received any detailed briefing about what the Russians have done. Look, members of this government have offices to run,” said Sessions.
Sen. Tom Cotton, who was one of the senators to support the attorney general, noted in a follow up question, “Did Donald Trump or any Republican release sensitive campaign related emails to the public?”
Sessions said he had no knowledge of any release nor did he believe any had occurred. The omission of the Democratic Party, though, was a notable point.
Also of note, under oath Sessions said he officially recused himself from the Russian investigation the day he became attorney general.
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