Donald Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions was tight-lipped in his Senate Intelligence Committee hearings, preferring to keep mum on the details of his contacts with the President, particularly in regards to the decision to fire former FBI chief James Comey.
Sessions, who is already rumored to be among Trump’s least favorite people at the moment, took the bench on Tuesday to help soothe agitated senators with details of his own interactions with Russian diplomats, but might have fallen short of his goal.
Like national security officials Dan Coats and Mike Rogers earlier in the week, Sessions declined to answer a number of questions related to his conversations with the President, citing “executive privilege”—even though Trump, the executive, has yet to invoke the legal status.
That left many of Sessions’ interrogators scratching their heads, though Sessions explained it by saying he was complying with a “longstanding Department of Justice practice” to protect confidential information.
Sessions wasn’t able—or willing— to point to that DOJ policy, and legal experts questioned whether Sessions is able to invoke a “premature executive privilege” without the White House speaking clearly on the matter first.
Sessions also refused to say whether he’d spoken to the President on the matter of Russian interference in the elections, but told the panel in his opening statements that collusion between Russia and Trump was an “appalling and destestable lie.”
The Senator-turned-Attorney General’s silence visibly frustrated members of the panel. California Sen. Kamala Harris interrupted Sessions’ testimony no fewer than 15 times, and had to be told by Sen. John McCain, after badgering Sessions over his silence, to let the AG answer questions fully before asking another question.
New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich accused Sessions of “impeding” the Senate Committee’s probe into Trump’s possible Russia connections, and appeared to threaten the AG with an obstruction of justice charge.
Sessions saved his worst beating, though, for Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, who used former FBI director James Comey’s testimony to accuse Sessions of having a “non-public reason” for recusing himself from the DOJ’s Russia investigation.
“I am not stonewalling” — this entire Sessions/Wyden exchange is something https://t.co/2RtQhOmAXh
— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) June 13, 2017
Sessions did have some new information for the panel. He denied that he met regularly in any capacity with Russian officials, and corroborated Comey’s claims that the FBI director felt uneasy in Trump’s presence. He also assured the panel that he would not boot independent counsel Robert Mueller, though he admitted that decision might not be up to him.