Senator Lankford Questions Attorney General Jeff Sessions During Intel Hearing
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WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) released the following statement after questioning Attorney General Jeff Sessions during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing:
“Our Intelligence Committee is investigating Russia’s level of interference in our election, whether any American helped the Russians in that endeavor, and what we must do to prevent interference in future elections. As we continue this investigation, I applaud Jeff Sessions for testifying before our Committee today and being open with us. The Attorney General’s willingness to be transparent not only benefits the federal government but also sends a message of assurance to the nation and the world. We will follow the facts wherever they lead. Today, the Attorney General testified under oath that he has recused himself from all aspects of the campaign investigation and he did not see or hear of any collusion with the Trump campaign and Russia.”
Transcript from hearing Q&A:
Senator Lankford: You speak as a man eager to set the record straight. You’ve spoken very plainly from the very beginning from your opening statement through this time. I am amazed at the conversations as if an attorney general has never said there were private conversations with the president. And we don’t need to discuss those. It seems to be a short memory about some of the statements Eric Holder would and would not make to any committee in the House or the Senate. And would or would not turn over documents even requested that had to go all the way throughout court system to finally the courts saying, “No, the President cannot hold back documents and the Attorney General can’t do that.” Some accusation that you’re not saying every conversation about everything, there’s long history of Attorney Generals standing beside the President saying there are some conversations that are confidential. And can we determine from there. It does seem as well that every unnamed source story somehow gets a hearing. I was in the hearing this morning with Rod Rosenstein as we dealt with the appropriations request that originally obviously you were scheduled to be at that, Rod Rosenstein was taking your place to be able to cover. He was very clear and peppered with questions about Russia. During that conversation as well, he was very clear that he never had conversations with you about that. And that you have never requested conversations about that. He was also peppered with questions of the latest rumor of the day that is somehow the president is thinking about firing Robert Mueller and getting rid of him and very clear that Rosenstein himself said, “I’m the only one that could do that and I’m not contemplating that nor would I do that and no one has any idea what the latest unnamed source story of the day is coming from but somehow it is grabbing all the attention.” I do want to be able to bring up a couple things to you specifically. One is to define the word recuse. And I come back to your e-mail that you sent to Jim Comey and others that day on March 2nd. This is what you said in your e-mail. After careful consideration following meetings with career department officials over the course of the past several weeks, the Attorney General decided to recuse himself from any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaign for President of the United States. The Attorney General’s recusal is not only with respect to such investigations if any but also extends to the Department of responses to congressional and media inquiries related to such investigations. Is that something you have maintained from March 2nd on?
Attorney General Sessions: Absolutely, I maintained it from the first day I became Attorney General. We discussed those matters and I felt until and if I ever made a decision to not recuse myself, I should not an abundance of caution involve myself in studying the investigation or evaluating it. So I did not. I also would note that the memorandum from my chief of staff directs these agencies and one of the people directly it was sent to was James B. Comey, Director of the FBI. You should instruct members of your staffs to not to brief the attorney general or any other officials in the Office of the Attorney General about or otherwise involve the Attorney General or other officials in the Office of the Attorney General in any such matters described above.
Senator Lankford: And you requested that?
Attorney General Sessions: We took proper and firm and crystal clear position of that recusal meant recusal.
Senator Lankford: Relating to this April 27th meeting, non-meeting in the same room, at the same time. The National Interest was asked specific by this as well who was the host of that event. They stated this in writing. “As the host, the Center for National Interest decided whom to invite and then issued the invitations. The Trump campaign did not determine or approve the invitation list. Guests of the event included both Republicans and Democrats with some of the lighter supporting other candidates. Most of the guests Washington-based foreign policy experts and journalists, Center for National Interest invited Russian Ambassador Kislyak and several other ambassadors to the speech. We regularly invite ambassadors and other foreign representatives to our events to facilitate dialogue.” Then they said, “We seated all four in the front row during the speech in deference to the diplomatic status. The Trump campaign had nothing to do with the seating arrangement. The Center for National Interest extended equal treatment of the four ambassadors attending the event and invited each to a short reception prior to the trump speech. It includes approximately two dozen guests in a receiving line. The line moved quickly and any conversations with Mr. Trump in that setting were inherently brief and could not be private. Our recollection is, the interaction with Mr. Trump and Ambassador Kislyak was limited to polite exchange and pleasantries. Appropriate on such occasions, we are not aware of any conversations with Ambassador Kislyak and Senator Jeff Sessions at the reception. However, in a small group setting like this one, we consider it unlikely that anyone would have engaged a meaningful private conversation without drawing attention from others present. Do you have any reason to disagree with that?
Attorney General Sessions: No, I think that’s a very fair description of the reception situation. I appreciate them having made that statement.