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Democrats Question Attorney General Sessions On Russia At Senate Judiciary Committee

Oct 18, 2017
Originally published on October 18, 2017 3:48 pm
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Police oversight, voting rights litigation, protections for the LGBT community, the Trump administration's travel ban - there was no shortage of questions for Attorney General Jeff Sessions when he testified today before the Senate Judiciary Committee. But the one that came up again and again was Russia. Here's NPR's Ryan Lucas.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: From the get-go, Democrats were eager to press the attorney general for details on his conversations with President Trump about the firing of former FBI Director James Comey and the investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia. Here's the panel's top Democrat, Senator Dianne Feinstein.

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DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Did the President ever mention to you his concern about lifting the cloud on the Russia investigation?

JEFF SESSIONS: Senator Feinstein, that calls for communication that I've had with the president, and I believe it remains confidential.

LUCAS: Committee Democrats had put Sessions on notice ahead of time, telling him in a letter that they expected full answers to their questions about his discussions with the president. They said he should not use so-called executive privilege to shield those conversations. Sessions tried to head off those lines of questioning even before they began Wednesday. The president, he said, may invoke executive privilege at some point in the future.

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SESSIONS: As a result, during today's hearing and under these circumstances today, I will not be able to discuss the content of my conversations with the president.

LUCAS: Lawmakers pushed him nevertheless. On Comey's firing, Sessions would only say that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein wrote up the recommendations that Comey be let go and then submitted them to the president. They also pressed Sessions about his previous statements regarding his own contacts with the Russians during the 2016 campaign when he served as a top foreign policy adviser to then-candidate Trump. In one particularly heated exchange, Minnesota Democrat Al Franken recounted what he described as Sessions' shifting statements on his Russia contacts.

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AL FRANKEN: First it was, I did not have communications with Russians, which was not true. Then it was, I never met with any Russians to discuss any political campaign, which may or may not be true. Now it's, I did not discuss interference in the campaign, which further narrows your initial blanket denial about meeting with the Russians.

LUCAS: Sessions pushed back. He accused Franken of being unfair and willfully misinterpreting his statements. And the attorney general once again denied any wrongdoing.

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SESSIONS: Well, let me just say this without hesitation - that I conducted no improper discussions with Russians at any time regarding a campaign or any other item facing this country.

LUCAS: Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation in March because of his role in the Trump campaign. Since then, former FBI Director Robert Mueller has been appointed a special counsel to lead the probe. President Trump has called the special counsel's investigation a witch hunt. Sessions expressed confidence in Mueller this summer. Asked today whether he still has confidence in his work, he offered this reply.

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SESSIONS: I think he will produce the work in the way he thinks is correct, and history will judge.

LUCAS: Sessions told lawmakers that he has not been interviewed by Mueller, but he said he would cooperate with the special counsel's probe if asked to do so. Ryan Lucas, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.