WASHINGTON — There were more sparks than substance at the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on Tuesday with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, nervous about falling into a perjury trap or exposing President Donald Trump to legal jeopardy as he denied any collusion with Russia — to the best that he recalled.
“I am not stonewalling,” Sessions told frustrated Democrats.
Breaking it down:
THE CONTEXT OF THE HEARING
Sessions’ testimony will fit into the evolving investigations being conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is looking for criminal misconduct to prosecute, including obstruction of justice, and four congressional committees — two House, two Senate — charged with figuring how Russians intervened in the 2016 campaign and whether any associates of Trump were involved.
WHAT’S NEW: SESSIONS ON RECUSAL
Sessions recused himself from the FBI Russia probe officially on March 2. We learned from his testimony that he had ethics concerns weeks earlier — or did he already know he was facing problems? Sessions said he walled himself off and never got briefed on any investigative details starting on Feb. 10, the day after he was sworn in.
How important is this? Not sure.
Comey, appearing before the same panel on June 8, told the senators the FBI was “aware of facts” about Sessions “that I can’t discuss in an open setting that would make his continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic.”
In a contentious exchange, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, asked Sessions what the “problematic” matters were, which led to a dramatic, emphatic statement from Sessions.
“Why don’t you tell me? There are none, Senator Wyden. There are none. I can tell you that for absolute certainty. This is a secret innuendo being leaked out there about me, and I don’t appreciate it,” Sessions said.
SESSIONS: NO COLLUSION WITH RUSSIANS
Sessions got himself in a jam for not disclosing all his contacts with Russians. He denied any collusion with Russians, which is really at the heart of the controversy.
“I have never met with or had any conversation with any Russians or any foreign officials concerning any type of interference with any campaign or election in the United States. Further, I have no knowledge of any such conversations by anyone connected to the Trump campaign.”
Sessions said suggestions he did is “an appalling and detestable lie.”
THE MAYFLOWER MYSTERY
Sessions headed into the hearing with a big problem about an alleged meeting on April 27, 2016, with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kisylak at a Trump foreign policy speech at the Mayflower Hotel.
This was a widely attended open press event, which I covered.
Sessions told Committee Chair Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., this head spinner: “I would have gladly have reported the meeting and encounter that may have occurred and some say occurred in the Mayflower if I had remembered it or if it actually occurred, which I don’t remember that it did.”
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., told Sessions that the Mayflower “plot line” if true — Sessions and Kislyak meeting in plain sight to collude — would be “the greatest caper in the history of espionage.”
Said Sessions, alluding to “Alice in Wonderland”: “It’s just like through the looking glass.”