AG calls claim he worked with Russia to undermine our democracy “an appalling and detestable lie.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions took aim at unhinged Russian electoral collusion conspiracy theorists, pushing back against left-wingers’ wild claims that by doing his job he somehow betrayed America.
The comments by the former Republican senator from Alabama came during heated testimony yesterday before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Sessions denied, as he has done before, that he had any inappropriate contact with Russian officials or that he plotted with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government to influence the 2016 election.
Sessions’ testimony came the day after Newsmax Media CEO Christopher Ruddy, a longtime friend of the president, claimed Trump was considering firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is heading the investigation into the Russian conspiracy theory. A few hours before Sessions testified, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein was asked by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Me.) if he would fire Mueller. Critics have accused Mueller of a litany of conflicts of interest that they claim ought to disqualify him as an investigator.
"Senator, I'm not going to follow any order unless I believe those are lawful and appropriate orders," Rosenstein said during a hearing about President Trump’s $27.7 billion fiscal 2018 budget for the Department of Justice. Mueller “may be fired only for good cause, and I am required to put that cause in writing. That's what I would do. If there were good cause, I would consider it.”
The attorney general’s appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee was marked by several testy exchanges with Democrats. The senior Democrat and vice chairman of the committee, Mark Warner of Virginia, set the noticeably prosecutorial tone for his side by interrupting Sessions repeatedly. “The Russians massively interfered,” in the 2016 election, Warner claimed.
In his opening statement, Sessions said:
Let me state this clearly, colleagues. I have never met with or had any conversation with any Russians or any foreign officials concerning any type of interference with any campaign or election in the United States. Further, I have no knowledge of any such conversations by anyone connected to the Trump campaign. I was your colleague in this body for 20 years, at least some of you. And the suggestion that I participated in any collusion 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.
As attorney general, “I recused myself from any investigation into the campaign for president, but I did not recuse myself from defending my honor against false allegations.”
A grandstanding Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) accused Sessions of being less than forthcoming about his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.
I believe the American people have had it with stonewalling. Americans don't want to hear the answers are privileged and off limits or they can't be provided in public or it would be inappropriate for witnesses to tell us what they know. We are talking about an attack on our democratic institutions and stonewalling of any kind is unacceptable.
Sessions forcefully denied that declining to answer questions about presidential communications constituted stonewalling. “I am following the historic policies of the Department of Justice,” he said.
Throughout the hearing Sessions repeatedly told senators that he wasn’t invoking executive privilege on behalf of President Trump. His default position was that conversations he had about official government business with Trump should be treated as presumptively confidential, at least until the president can make an informed decision about whether to shield the information by invoking executive privilege.
“I'm protecting the president's constitutional right by not giving it away before he has a chance to review it,” Sessions told Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.).
The nation’s top law enforcement official explained his hands-off policy regarding the Russia investigation. “I basically recused myself the first day I got into the office because I never accessed files” about the probe, he said.
I never learned the names of investigators. I never met with them. I never asked for any documentation. The documentation, what little I received, was mostly already in the media and was presented by the senior ethics public – professional responsibility attorney in the department and I made an honest and proper decision to recuse myself as I told Senator Feinstein and the members of the committee I would do when they confirmed me.
Wyden accused Sessions of not answering a question.
“The question is, [former FBI Director] Mr. [James] Comey said there were matters with respect to the recusal that were problematic and he couldn't talk about them. What are they?”
“Why don't you tell me,” Sessions shot back angrily. “There are none, Senator Wyden.”
There are none. I can tell you that for absolute certainty. This is a secret innuendo being leaked out there about me, and I don't appreciate it. I try to give my best and truthful answers to any committee I've appeared before, and it's really -- people are suggesting through innuendo that I have been not honest about matters, and I've tried to be honest.
Wyden asserted Comey was fired by Trump “because of the Russian investigation.”
“I want to ask you point-blank, why did you sign the letter recommending the firing of Director Comey when it violated your recusal?”
Sessions denied the document ran afoul of his recusal, explaining that the May 9 Department of Justice memo making the case against Comey “represented my views that had been formulated for some time.”
Wyden rejected that response.
That answer in my view doesn't pass the smell test. The president tweeted repeatedly about his anger about investigations into his associates and Russia. The day before you wrote your letter, he tweeted the collusion story was a total hoax and asked when will this taxpayer-funded charade end. It doesn't pass the smell test.
But not all of the members of the committee spent their time berating the attorney general or calling him a liar.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) tried to demonstrate how ridiculous the Left’s conspiracy theory about the election is.
After asking Sessions if he liked spy novels and James Bond and Jason Bourne movies, Cotton said:
Have you ever in any of these fantastical situations heard of a plot line so ridiculous that a sitting United States senator and an ambassador of a foreign government colluded at an open setting with hundreds of other people to pull off the greatest caper in the history of espionage?
Sessions thanked Cotton for the observation and said, “It's just like through the looking glass.”
Which is precisely the purpose of the various investigations into the still-wholly unsubstantiated Russian electoral collusion conspiracy theory.
The investigations are never supposed to end – at least not until President Trump is politically neutered or driven from office.