Jeff Sessions, the US attorney general, has emphatically rejected allegations that he took part in collusion with Moscow to influence the 2016 election as an “appalling and detestable lie”.
During the intense and rather tedious hearing of the Senate intelligence committee, Sessions refused to answer questions about his conversations with Donald Trump, on the basis that the president could cover the discussions with executive privilege at a later date.
Democratic senators placed Sessions under persistent questioning. The attorney general repeatedly claimed he could not recall details of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.
Perhaps the most startling admission from the country’s top justice official came when he said he had not received, nor had he asked for, a briefing on Russian intervention in the 2016 presidential election. He said he could not recall any conversations with Trump about the Russian role in the election throughout the transition period.
Sessions, a Former senator for Alabama, complained about the pace of the questioning: “I’m not able to be rushed this fast. It makes me nervous.”
Some of the most directed exchanges were over his refusal to talk about White House conversations on the Russia investigation and Comey’s dismissal on May 9, despite the fact that Trump has not invoked executive privilege. Democrats on the committee reminded Sessions he was under oath.
“You are obstructing this congressional investigation by not answering these questions,” Warned Martin Heinrich, a Democratic senator from New Mexico.
Sessions returned: “I am not stonewalling. I am following the historic practices of the department of justice.”
Later confirmed a justice department official: “declining to answer questions at a congressional hearing about confidential conversations with the president is long-standing executive-branch-wide practice,” citing a 1982 justice department memorandum. The memorandum gives the president the right to invoke executive privilege to cover “military, diplomatic or national security secrets” and a more limited privilege in keeping law enforcement investigations secret.
To date Trump has not invoked executive privilege, but Sessions argued the president could do so at a later time.