Attorney General Jeff Sessions faced testing questions from his former colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee — forcing him to repeatedly deny any improper contacts with the Russian government during the 2016 US presidential campaign.
“My concern is you were part of the Russian facade and went along with it,” Vermont Democrat Senator, Patrick Leahy said. “I’m sorry, I’ve known you for years, and I’m sorry you would do that.”
Sessions responded with “It did hurt me to hear you say I’m part of a façade, I’m not part of a façade,” Sessions said.
The committee discussed a large number of topics including Russian interference in the 2016 US Presidential election, immigration and criminal justice reform, Sessions also debated executive privilege with committee Democrats.
Sessions refused to discuss his “confidential conversations with the President,” stating “I can neither assert executive privilege neither can I disclose today the contents of my confidential conversations with the President. It is well established that the President is entitled to have private, confidential conversations with his Cabinet officials… such communications are the core of executive privilege.”
Senator Al Franken of Minnesota questioned Sessions over previous comments he made during his confirmation process where he said he had not had been in contact with anyone connected to the Russian government during the presidential campaign.
In response Sessions stated “I’ve committed myself to a high level of public service, to reach the highest level of standards and decency in my public service. You have now gone through this long talk that I believe is totally unfair to me.”
Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, asked whether the President could pre-emptively pardon a person under investigation.
“Well the pardon power is quite broad,” Sessions said, saying he’d prefer to answer in writing. “I have not studied it. I don’t know whether that would be appropriate or not, frankly.”
Vermont Democrat Senator, Patrick Leahy asked Sessions about his response to a question on his confirmation questionnaire. Leahy referred to the questionnaire, which asked if Sessions had been in contact with anyone connected to the Russian government.
“You answered emphatically, no,” Leahy said, noting that after Sessions’ confirmation it was revealed by the press that Sessions had met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak on multiple occasions. “You answered no, you concealed your own contact with Russian officials at a time when such contacts were of great interest to the committee.”
Leahy said that as a senator, Sessions “wouldn’t tolerate being misled” and asked him if he could “understand” the impression of Democrats that his answer was “false testimony.”
“I believe my answer was correct,” Sessions said, pulling out the questionnaire and reading from the lead-up to the question, which referenced interference in the 2016 campaign.
“I took that to mean, not any casual conversation, but did I participate with the Russians about the 2016 election,” Sessions said. “Every one of your previous questions talked about improper involvement and I felt the answer was no.”
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