Attorney General Jeff Sessions hit back against any implication of improper meetings with Russian officials in a prepared opening to his testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Tuesday.
“Let me state this clearly colleagues. I have never met with or had any conversation with any Russian or any foreign officials concerning any type of interference with any campaign or election in the United States,” Sessions told the committee. “Further, I have no knowledge of any such conversations by anyone connected to the Trump campaign.”
He then became more indignant, saying:
The suggestion that I participated in any collusion or that I was aware of any collusion with the Russian government to hurt this country, which I have served with honor for 35 years, or to undermine the integrity of our democratic process, is an appalling and detestable lie.
The attorney general has been dogged by implications of dishonesty and impropriety regarding his supposed contacts with the Russians since it became clear he neglected to mention meeting Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak at the Republican National Convention during his confirmation hearings. Some Democrats have even called for Sessions to resign over the matter. Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) opened the hearing imputing a possible additional meeting between Sessions and Kisylak at the Mayflower Hotel in April 2016.
Sessions countered this suggestion. His prepared remarks insisted:
I did not have any private meetings nor do I recall any conversations with any Russian officials at the Mayflower Hotel. I did not attend any meetings at that event. Prior to the speech, I attended a reception with my staff that included at least two dozen people and President Trump. Though I do recall several conversations I had during that pre-speech reception, I do not have any recollection of meeting or talking to the Russian Ambassador or any other Russian officials. If any brief interaction occurred in passing with the Russian Ambassador during that reception, I do not remember it. After the speech, I was interviewed by the news media, which had gathered as I remember in a different room, and then I left the hotel.
As for the confirmed meeting between the pair at the RNC, which became the basis of his alleged “lie” at his confirmation hearing, Sessions was equally unconvinced. “There is the assertion that I did not answer Senator Franken’s question honestly at my confirmation hearing. Colleagues, that is false,” Sessions said to his until-recently fellow senators, smiling as he corrected himself. “I can’t say colleagues anymore … former colleagues.”
“This is what happened,” Sessions continued:
Senator Franken asked me a rambling question after some six hours of testimony that included dramatic, new allegations that the United States intelligence community, the U.S. intelligence community, had advised President-elect Trump that “there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump’s surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government.” I was taken aback by that explosive allegation, which he said was being reported as breaking news that very day and which I had not heard. I wanted to refute – immediately – any suggestion that I was part of such activity. I replied, quote, “Senator Franken, I’m not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I didn’t have – did not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment on it,” end quote.
That was the context in which I was asked the question and in that context it was a fair and accurate response to the charge as I understood it.
Session explicitly acknowledged the meetings between him an Kislyak, one at his Senate office and the other after a speech Sessions delivered at the RNC last July, but told the committee, “Not one thing happened that was improper in any one of these meetings.”
But Sessions also took issue with the entire idea his seeing the Russian ambassador had anything to do with the investigation into Russian election interference that ostensibly is the subject of Tuesday’s hearing. “Whether I ever attended a reception where the Russian Ambassador was also present is entirely beside the point of this investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 campaigns,” he said.