Jeff Sessions testimony: Collusion suggestions are "appalling and detestable" -- live updates

Last Updated Jun 13, 2017 7:10 PM EDT

Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday defended himself amid allegations that he had a third undisclosed meeting with a Russian official during the 2016 campaign, his role in the firing of James Comey as FBI director and the reason for his recusal from the Russian investigation.

Sessions testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee for several hours in which he seemed to waver on whether he met Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. following a Trump foreign policy speech. Initially, Sessions said he did not have "private meetings" or recall any "conversations" with any Russian officials at the hotel. He later admitted that he may have had an encounter with Kislyak.

The attorney general said he recused himself from the Russia probe because of a Department of Justice regulation, which he said states, "that Department employees should not participate in investigations of a campaign if they have served as a campaign advisor." He also said that his decision to write a letter accompanying Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's memo​ recommending Comey's dismissal did not violate his recusal.

Sessions also said he discussed the idea of Comey's firing before he was confirmed as attorney general in February and that he has never been briefed on Russian cyberattacks against the 2016 election.

Discussing Russian effort to meddle in the 2016 U.S. election, Sessions said it's a "serious matter" and that hacking into a private person's email account or computers at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) is "just not right," he said.

He said it's "likely that laws were violated, if that actually occurred."

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U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions testifies before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Tue., June 13, 2017.

Reuters

Sessions testimony live updates:


U.S. does not have a "sufficient strategy" to combat cyber threats, Sessions says

Sessions said it's "very disturbing" that the Russians continue to push hostile actions in their foreign policy, which he said is not good for the U.S. and the world. 

"We do not have a sufficient strategy," Sessions said, in countering Russia's cyber threat and its technological skills. 

Sessions discusses one conversation with Kislyak 

During an exchange with Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, Sessions said he recalls that the day before he met with Kislyak when he was a senator, he also met with the ambassador from Ukraine. He said he raised concerns about Russia's invasion of Ukraine and that it got a "bit testy on that subject." 

Sessions said he doesn't recall raising concerns about Russia's involvement in Syria or interference in the U.S. election. 

Sessions says he has never been briefed on Russian cyberattacks

He was asked if he believed that Russia meddling in the election. Sessions said it "appears" as if that occurred and acknowledged that the intelligence community was united in that conclusion. He added that he has never been briefed on Russia's cyberattacks against the election. 

Sessions says Trump has not invoked executive privilege but won't point to legal basis for not answering questions

The attorney general said that Trump has not invoked executive privlege. Asked by Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, what the legal basis is for Sessions not answering questions at the hearing, he said, "I'm protecting the right of the president to assert it if he chooses." 

Sessions "may have had an encounter" with Kislyak at the Mayflower hotel

The attorney general said that after Trump's foreign policy speech at the hotel in April 2016, he attended a reception with two to three dozen people and he said he may have seen people on the way out. 

Sessions said he may have had an encounter with Kislyak, which he said is the "only thing I cannot say with certainty I did not." 

He said he might have met other ambassadors at the reception. 

Letter accompanying Rosenstein memo "did not violate my recusal," Sessions says

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, asked Sessions why he signed a letter affirming Rosenstein's memo recommending the termination of Comey as FBI director when he had recused himself from the Russia investigation. 

"It did not violate my recusal," Sessions said. "The letter that I signed represented my views that had been formulated for some time." 

Wyden said his response "doesn't pass the smell test." 

Sessions recalls leaving the Oval Office on Feb. 14 with Comey remaining behind

The attorney general confirmed that he remembers seeing Comey stayed behind in the Oval Office. Comey said last week that it seemed like Sessions "lingered" in the room until he left. 

"I do recall being one of the last ones to leave," he said. 

Likely laws were violated if hack into DNC "actually occurred," Sessions says

Discussing Russian effort to meddle in the 2016 U.S. election, Sessions said it's a "serious matter" and that hacking into a private person's email account or computers at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) is "just not right," he said. 

He said it's "likely that laws were violated, if that actually occurred." 

The intelligence community has concluded that Russia was behind these cyberattacks. 

Sessions says he discussed Comey's firing before he was confirmed as attorney general

Sessions said that he discussed the firing of Comey as FBI director before he was confirmed as attorney general in January, arguing that the FBI needed a fresh start. He said this when discussing the memo prepared by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who Sessions said evaluated Comey's job performance and noted "some serious problems with it."

Sessions says it's "problematic" when DOJ official speaks to Cabinet official or White House officials about ongoing investigations

Speaking about Comey's request to Sessions that he not leave him alone in the room again with President Trump, Sessions said that there's "nothing wrong with the president" having a conversation with the FBI director, but he added that it is "problematic" for any DOJ official to speak to any Cabinet official or White House official about ongoing investigations. 

Sessions says Comey was sent recusal details

The attorney general said that one of the internal emails concerning his recusal from the Russia investigation was sent to Comey by name. 

Sessions says he hasn't spoken to Special Counsel Robert Mueller

Asked if he's had any interactions with Mueller since his appointment as special counsel, Sessions said, "I have not." 

Sessions stresses he can't remember whether there was a third meeting with Kislyak

He said that when the reporter asked him about any meetings with Russians in March, he said he "immediately recalled" an encounter at the Republican National Convention and a meeting in his Senate office with Kislyak. He said he "never intended" not to disclose those meetings publicly. He said he gladly would have disclosed a third reported meeting if he remembered it.  

It's an "appalling and destestable lie," Sessions says to suggest he was aware of collusion or participated in any collusion

Sessions told lawmakers, "I was your colleague in this body for 20 years, and 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 over 35 years, or to undermine the integrity of our democratic process, is an appalling and detestable lie." 

Sessions explains why he recused himself from Russia probe and his involvement in Comey's firing

The attorney general said that he recused himself because of a Department of Justice regulation, which he said states, "that Department employees should not participate in investigations of a campaign if they have served as a campaign advisor."

He said that his recusal, however, "does not and cannot interfere" with his ability to oversee the Justice Department, including the FBI. 

Regarding his recommendation that Comey be fired, Sessions said Tuesday, "It is absurd, frankly, to suggest that a recusal from a single specific investigation would render an Attorney General unable to manage the leadership of the various Department of Justice law enforcement components that conduct thousands of investigations."

Sessions said it's "false" that he didn't answer question at confirmation hearing honestly

At his confirmation hearing, during an exchange with Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota, Sessions didn't mention two meetings he had with Russian Ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak. He said Tuesday that Franken asked a "rambling question" and that his decision not to mention those meetings was a "fair and correct response." 

Sessions then said, "It was only in March of this year that a reporter asked my spokesperson whether I had ever met with any Russian officials. This was the first time that question had been posed. On the same day, we provided that reporter with the information related to the meeting I and my staff had held in my Senate office with Ambassador Kislyak, as well as the brief encounter in July after a speech that I had given during the convention in Cleveland, Ohio. I also provided the reporter a list of all 25 foreign ambassador meetings I had held during 2016. In addition, I provided supplemental testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee to explain this. I readily acknowledged these two meetings.  Certainly nothing improper occurred."

Sessions said he didn't have alleged third meeting with Russian official 

"I did not have any private meetings nor do I recall any conversations with any Russian officials at the Mayflower Hotel," Sessions said in his opening statement. "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."

He added, "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."

Warner says the committee would like documents from Sessions

The top Democrat on the panel recounted the timeline of Sessions' statements regarding his interactions with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign. Warner said he hopes he clears up discrepancies regarding the number of meetings he had with Russian officials and with whom. 

He said he hopes Sessions will provide the committee with any documents -- emails or calendars. He said the panel wants to hear what his involvement was in the firing of former FBI Director James Comey and if he knows whether the president tried to enlist leaders of the intelligence committee to undermine the federal investigation into Russia interference. 

Burr lists questions he has for Sessions

The chairman of the committee said that this hearing is Sessions' "opportunity to separate fact from fiction." He said Sessions can clarify several allegations floating around in the press including:

  1. Did Sessions have any meetings with Russian officials or proxies on behalf of the Trump campaign?
  2. What was Sessions' involvement with the Trump foreign policy team and were there interactions with Russians?
  3. Why did Sessions recuse himself from the Russia investigation?
  4. What role did Sessions play, if any, in the dismissal of Comey?

 

  • Rebecca Shabad

    Rebecca Shabad is a video reporter for CBS News Digital.