Attorney General Jeff Sessions told Congress Wednesday that he would not answer questions about conversations with President Trump about former FBI Director James Comey’s firing or the Russia investigation.
The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, which comes eight months into Sessions’ tenure as Attorney General, was sprawling in scope. Questions covering DACA, civil rights, voting rights, the travel ban, the FISA Amendments Act, and freedom of the press, among other subjects.
The most charged moments pertained to questions about Russia, Comey, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) asked Sessions about his January testimony about contact with persons connected to the Russian government.
During his confirmation hearing, Sessions said he did not have contact with anyone connected to the Russian government. It was later reported that Sessions had several points of contact with then-Russian ambassador Serge Kislyak. Franken called this “moving the goalposts.”
In March, Sessions recused himself from the ongoing investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 election, due to his role as an advisor on the Trump campaign. In May, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed former FBI director Robert S. Mueller III as special counsel to investigate the matter following Comey’s firing.
Comey’s dismissal and Mueller’s investigation were also the subjects of tense exchanges between Democratic senators and the Attorney General.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the committee, asked Sessions about conversations that he had with President Trump about the decision to fire Comey. Sessions repeated what he previously said about Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, and asserted that his conversations with Trump were a private matter. Sessions also made this claim in July when questioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee.
“I can neither assert executive privilege neither can I disclose today the contents of my confidential conversations with the President,” Sessions said during the nearly five-hour hearing. “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.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) asked Sessions if he had been interviewed by Mueller, to which Sessions eventually replied “no,” and Sessions told Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) that he had not received a request from Mueller’s office.
Sessions also defended President Trump’s travel ban; the third version of the controversial order was blocked by a judge earlier this week.
“It is a lawful and necessary order that we are proud to defend,” Sessions told the committee. “We’re confident that we will prevail as time goes by in the Supreme Court.”