In Senate Investigation Hearing on Russia Franken and Sessions Engage in Heated Exchange.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday faced tough questions from his former colleagues on the Senate judiciary committee -- forcing him to once again repeatedly deny any improper contacts with the Russian government during the presidential campaign.
"My concern is you were part of the Russian facade and went along with it," Vermont Democrat Sen. Patrick Leahy said after a second round of tense questioning as the hearing stretched into the afternoon. "I'm sorry, I've known you for years, and I'm sorry you would do that. "
Sessions denied the allegation and expressed dismay that his former committee chairman would make it.
"It did hurt me to hear you say I'm part of a façade, I'm not part of a façade," Sessions said.
During the nearly five-hour hearing that touched on topics including Russian election meddling, immigration and criminal justice reform, Sessions also debated executive privilege with committee Democrats.
"I can neither assert executive privilege neither can I disclose today the contents of my confidential conversations with the President," Sessions said. "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."
Chairman Chuck Grassley backed up Sessions after several rounds of such questions, saying former Attorney General Eric Holder had made similar claims during the Obama administration.
Over the hours of his testimony, Sessions defended his integrity amid sharp questioning from Democrats -- in particular Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota -- who grilled Sessions over previous comments he made during his confirmation process where he said he had not had been in contact with anyone connected to the Russian government during the presidential campaign, a topic of keen interest amid the ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the US election.
It was later revealed that Sessions met with then-Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak on multiple occasions.
"I've committed myself to a high level of public service, to reach the highest level of standards and decency in my public service," Sessions told Franken. "You have now gone through this long talk that I believe is totally unfair to me."
Sessions told the committee: "I cannot waive that privilege myself or otherwise compromise his ability to assert it."
Sessions also grew visibly uncomfortable when Leahy asked him about his interactions with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. Leahy pressed Sessions on whether he had been interviewed by Mueller, not allowing Sessions to demur to ask the special counsel about it first.
"The answer's no," Sessions finally said.
Franken picked up on the exchange, and pressed Sessions on his answers to the Democrat's own questions during the confirmation hearing. In a back and forth that included repeated asides about time remaining and pleas to the chairman for fairness, Sessions took umbrage at Franken's implication that he had acted improperly.
Franken read extensively from Sessions' public statements, saying repeatedly "the goalposts have been moved."
"Not being able to recall what you discussed with him is very different than saying, 'I have not had communications with the Russians,'" Franken said. "The ambassador from Russia is Russian. And how your responses morphed from, 'I did not have communications with the Russians' to 'I did not discuss substantive, I did not discuss the political campaign' and then finally going to, 'I did not discuss interference in the election.'That, to me, is moving the goal posts every time. ... By the end, we're going to a 75-yard field goal."
"Let me just say, without hesitation, that I conducted no improper discussions with Russians at any time regarding a campaign or any other item facing this country," Sessions tried to begin his answer, before an aside about time.
"Mr. Chairman, I don't have to sit here and listen --" Sessions said.
"You're the one who's testifying," Franken shot back.
"Without having a chance to respond, give me a break," Sessions said.