AG Sessions: I Never Met With Or Talked to Any Russians Regarding ‘Interference With Any Campaign or Election’

By Melanie Arter | June 13, 2017 | 3:38pm EDT
Attorney General Jeff Sessions (Screenshot of C-SPAN video)

( – In his opening statement to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he never had any conversations with or met with any Russians or other foreign officials to discuss interference with any election or campaign.

“Let me state this clearly: I have never met with or had any conversations with any Russians or any foreign officials concerning any type of interference with any campaign or election. Further, I have no knowledge of any such conversations by anyone connected to the Trump campaign,” Sessions said.

The attorney general also specifically refuted reports that he met privately with Russian officials at the Mayflower Hotel.

“Now, let me address some issues directly: I did not have any private meetings nor do I recall any conversations with any Russian officials at the Mayflower Hotel. I did not attend any meetings at that event. Prior to the speech, I attended a reception with my staff that included at least two dozen people and President Trump,” Sessions said.

“Though I do recall several conversations I had during that pre-speech reception, I do not have any recollection of meeting or talking to the Russian Ambassador or any other Russian officials. If any brief interaction occurred in passing with the Russian Ambassador during that reception, I do not remember it. After the speech, I was interviewed by the news media, which had gathered as I remember in a different room, and then I left the hotel,” he said.

“But whether I ever attended a reception where the Russian Ambassador was also present is entirely beside the point of this investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 campaigns,” Sessions said.

The attorney general explained why he recused himself from the Russian investigation, saying, “I recused myself not because of any asserted wrongdoing on my part during the campaign,” but because a Department of Justice regulation required it.

Sessions said that regulation - 28 CFR 45.2 - “states, in effect, that Department employees should not participate in investigations of a campaign if they have served as a campaign advisor.”

He said his recusal from the Russian investigation does not affect his ability to lead the DOJ.

“It is absurd, frankly, to suggest that a recusal from a single specific investigation would render an attorney general unable to manage the leadership of the various Department of Justice law enforcement components that conduct thousands of investigations,” he said.

Sessions refuted claims that he didn’t answer Sen. Al Franken’s (D-Minn.) questioning truthfully during Sessions’ confirmation hearing.

“Relatedly, there is the assertion that I did not answer Senator Franken’s question honestly at my confirmation hearing. That is false. This is how it happened. He asked me a rambling question that included dramatic, new allegations that the United States intelligence community had advised President-elect Trump that ‘there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump’s surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government,’" he said.
“I was taken aback by these explosive allegations, which he said were being reported in breaking news that day. I wanted to refute immediately any suggestion that I was a part of such an activity. I replied, ‘Senator Franken, I’m not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I didn’t have – did not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment on it,’” Sessions said.

“That was the context in which I was asked the question, and in that context, my answer was a fair and correct response to the charge as I understood it. It simply did not occur to me to go further than the context of the question and list any conversations I may have had with Russians in routine situations, as I had with numerous other foreign officials,” he said. 

Sessions said that it wasn’t until March 2017 that a reporter asked his spokesperson whether Sessions had ever met with any Russian officials.

“This was the first time that question had been posed. On the same day, we provided that reporter with the information related to the meeting I and my staff had held in my Senate office with Ambassador Kislyak, as well as the brief encounter in July after a speech that I had given during the convention in Cleveland, Ohio,” Sessions said.

“I also provided the reporter a list of all 25 foreign ambassador meetings I had held during 2016.  In addition, I provided supplemental testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee to explain this. I readily acknowledged these two meetings. Certainly nothing improper occurred,” Sessions added.

Lastly, Sessions addressed former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony that Sessions left Comey alone with the president after a White House meeting against Comey’s wishes.

“Finally, during his testimony, Mr. Comey discussed a conversation he and I had about a meeting Mr. Comey had with the president. I am happy to share with the committee my recollection of the conversation I had with Mr. Comey. Following a routine morning threat briefing, Mr. Comey spoke to me and my chief of staff,” Sessions said.

“While he did not provide me with any of the substance of his conversation with the president, Mr. Comey expressed concern about the proper communications protocol with the White House and with the president. I responded to his comment by agreeing that the FBI and Department of Justice needed to be careful to follow department policies regarding appropriate contacts with the White House,” the attorney general said. 

Sessions said Comey had more than 20 years in the DOJ, so Sessions felt Comey understood the rules regarding White House communications about ongoing investigations.

“Mr. Comey had served in the Department of Justice for the better part of two decades, and I was confident that Mr. Comey understood and would abide by the Department’s well-established rules governing any communications with the White House about ongoing investigations,” Sessions said. 

“My comments encouraged him to do just that and indeed, as I understand, he did. Our Department of Justice rules on proper communication between the Department and the White House have been in place for years. Mr. Comey well knew them, I thought, and assumed correctly that he complied with them,” he added.

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