Jeff Sessions denies Russia collusion, defends Comey firing
The US attorney general has denied allegations he was aware of links between Russia and the Trump campaign in a Senate hearing. He also said he recommended a “fresh start” at the FBI when asked about the firing of Comey.
In closely watched testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions strongly denied the suggestion he colluded with Russian officials during the campaign to swing the election in US President Donald Trump‘s favor.
“The suggestion that I participated in any collusion, that I was aware of any collusion with the Russian government to hurt this country … or to undermine the integrity of our democratic process, is an appalling and detestable lie,” Sessions said.
Sessions said his decision to recuse himself from all ongoing Russia investigations was based on a regulation that required him to step aside due to his involvement in the Trump campaign. He insisted that he didn’t know about the Russia probe or was involved in the investigation.
Sessions also defended himself against accusations that he misrepresented himself by saying during his confirmation hearing that he had not met with Russian officials during the campaign.
The attorney general did not actually step aside from the Russia probe until March 2, one day after The Washington Post reported on his two previously undisclosed meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Grilling over Comey firing
Sessions also fielded several questions over his role in the firing of James Comey. The former FBI director said in his testimony last week that US President Donald Trump sacked him as part of a bid to influence the Russia investigation.
The nation’s top law enforcement official said he had recommended a “fresh start” for the FBI, but wouldn’t provide any details about his conversation with Trump concerning the matter.
He also refused to say whether he discussed the Russia investigation with Trump, saying he couldn’t disclose private conversations with the president.
During last week’s testimony, Comey suggested that there was something “problematic” about Sessions’ recusal from the Russia probe. When asked what problematic issues existed, Sessions became visibly incensed.
“Why don’t you tell me? There are none,” Sessions insisted, his voice rising. “This is a secret innuendo being leaked out there about me, and I don’t appreciate it.”
Asked about Trump’s contention that he had fired Comey with the Russia probe in mind and regardless of recommendations from anyone else, Sessions said: “I guess I’ll just have to let his words speak for themselves. I’m not sure what was in his mind specifically.”
“Many have suggested that my recusal is because I felt I was a subject of the investigation myself, that I may have done something wrong,” Sessions added. “But this is the reason I recused myself. I felt I was required to under the rules of the Department of Justice.”
“I did not recuse myself from defending my honor against scurrilous and false allegations,” he added.
Tuesday’s hearing was Sessions’ first public testimony since being confirmed as attorney general in February, and comes amid several open investigations into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.
rs,jh/rt (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)