Attorney General Denies Improper Meetings with Russians

Sessions calls Democrats' claims of Russian collusion with Trump campaign 'appalling lie'

Attorney General Jeff Sessions

Attorney General Jeff Sessions / Getty Images

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired back at Senate Democrats who have charged he held improper meetings with Russian officials during the 2016 election.

Appearing before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that is investigating Russian interference in the election campaign, Sessions disputed claims of collusion between Moscow and the Trump presidential campaign.

"Let me state this clearly: I have never met with or had any conversations with any Russians or any foreign officials concerning any type of interference with any campaign or election," Sessions said.

"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, 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 added: "These false attacks, the innuendo, and the leaks, you can be sure, will not intimidate me. In fact, these events have only strengthened my resolve to fulfill my duty to reduce crime, and to support our federal, state, and local law enforcement officers who work our streets every day."

Sessions said during questioning by senators that allegations of Trump-Russia collusion outlined in a private intelligence dossier produced by a former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele were false.

The dossier, containing salacious and false allegations that Russia has compromised Trump, has been "largely discredited," Sessions testified.

The dossier was used by the FBI to launch its counterintelligence investigation into potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, an investigation that has been underway since July.

So far, no evidence that Trump or his campaign had cooperated with Russia during the presidential race has surfaced publicly.

Sessions testified that the first time he heard about meetings he held with Russian officials came from a news reporter who contacted his office in March. "This was the first time that question had been posed," he said.

The reporter was told Sessions and his staff met with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak in his Senate office, and had a "brief encounter" in July after a speech to the Republican National Convention in Ohio.

The meeting was one of 25 meetings with foreign ambassadors Sessions held in 2016, Sessions said.

The attorney general said he decided to recuse himself from the Russia investigation from the first day in office in March, based on Justice Department rules. The rules state that Justice officials should not take part in investigations of political campaigns if they were advisers to the campaign.

"As such, I have no knowledge about this investigation beyond what has been publicly reported, and I have taken no action with regard to any such investigation," he said.

Regarding testimony by fired FBI Director James Comey, Sessions said Comey told him after talking to the president that he was concerned about proper communications protocols between Justice and the White House.

"I responded to his comment by agreeing that the FBI and Department of Justice needed to be careful to follow department policies regarding appropriate contacts with the White House," he said.

"Our Department of Justice rules on proper communication between the department and the White House have been in place for years. Mr. Comey well knew them, I thought, and assumed correctly that he complied with them."

Sessions criticized Comey for not raising his concerns with the acting attorney general after the Feb. 14 Oval Office meeting when Trump, according to Comey, asked the FBI to back off its investigation of fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Trump denied the conversation took place as Comey asserted.

During a heated exchange with Sen. Ron Wyden, Sessions reacted harshly to a charge he was stonewalling the committee by refusing to answer questions about conversations with the president.

Sessions disputed Comey's earlier Senate testimony that the FBI director was "aware of facts" indicating Sessions had continued to take part in the Russian problem in violation of his recusal.

"There are none. There are none," Sessions said. "I can tell you that for absolute certainty."

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

Sessions also said he is unaware that the president has a system for recording meetings in the White House.

Trump recently tweeted in response to charges by Comey that the former FBI director should hope there are no recordings of meetings between the two men.

Sessions concluded his opening statement by rejecting charges of improper handling of the Russian inquiry. "I recused myself from any investigation into the campaigns for president, but I did not recuse myself from defending my honor against scurrilous and false allegations," he said. "At all times throughout the course of the campaign, the confirmation process, and since becoming attorney general, I have dedicated myself to the highest standards."

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