Sessions: ‘My Reply…Was Honest and Correct’

By Terence P. Jeffrey | March 2, 2017 | 5:35pm EST
Attorney General Jeff Sessions (Screen Capture)

( - Attorney General Jeff Sessions held a press conference this afternoon to state that his answer to a question that Sen. Al Franken put to him at his confirmation hearing about alleged Russian involvement in the presidential campaign was “honest and correct.”

Sessions also said today he is recusing himself from "any existing or future investigations of any matter relating in any way to the campaigns for president of the United States." Sessions said that his announcment "should not be interpreted as confirmation of the existence of any investigation or suggestive of the scope of any such investigation."

At Sessions' confirmation hearing, Franken asked Sessions specifically about a breaking news report that said “Russian operatives” had compromising information on Trump and that “intermediaries for the Russian government” had been continually exchanging information with the Trump campaign.

Franken did not ask Sessions whether he had had any contact with the Russian ambassador in his official capacity as a U.S. senator.

Sessions said that he and two aides did meet with the ambassador at Sessions’ Capitol Hill office and that he also had fleeting contact with the ambassador at the end of an event that the Heritage Foundation held at the Republican National Convention.

“Let me be clear,” Session said at this press briefing today, “I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign.”

Here is what Franken asked Sessions at his Jan. 10 confirmation hearing:

“Okay, CNN has just published a story and I'm telling you this about a news story that's just been published. I'm not expecting you to know whether or not it's true or not. But CNN just published a story alleging that the intelligence community provided documents to the president-elect last week that included information that quote, ‘Russian operatives claimed to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump.’ These documents also allegedly say quote, ‘There was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump's surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government.’

“Now, again, I'm telling you this as it's coming out, so you know. But if it's true, it's obviously extremely serious and if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?

Sessions responded to Franken’s question as follows:

“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.”

Franken then followed up:

“Very well. Without divulging sensitive information, do you know about this or know what compromising personal and financial information the Russians claim to have?”

Sessions responded:

“Senator Franken, allegations get made about candidates all the time and they've been made about President-elect Trump a lot sometimes. Most of them, virtually all of them, have been proven to be exaggerated and untrue. I would just say to you that I have no information about this matter. I have not been in on the classified briefings and I'm not a member of the Intelligence Committee, and I'm just not able to give you any comment on it at this time.”

Today, at his press conference, Sessions said he was responding to Franken’s question about the breaking news story claiming there was a “continuing exchange of information” between intermediaries of the Russian government and Trump surrogates.

Sessions said:

“First, about the comments that I made to the committee that have been said to be incorrect and false. Let me be clear: I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign. And the idea that I was part of a, quote, ‘continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government’ is totally false.

“That is the question that Senator Franken asked me at the hearing, and that’s what got my attention as he noted, it was the first, it was just-breaking news. It got my attention, and that is the question I responded to. I did not respond by referring to the two meetings—one very brief after a speech—and one with two of my senior staffers, professional staffers, with the Russian ambassador in Washington, where no such things were discussed.

“My reply to the question of Senator Franken was honest and correct as I understood it at the time. I appreciate that some have taken the view that this was a false comment. That is not my intent. That is not correct. I will write the Judiciary Committee soon, today or tomorrow, to explain this testimony for the record.

Later in the press briefing Sessions said:

“I was taken aback a little bit about this brand new information, this allegation, that surrogates—and I had been called a surrogate for Donald Trump—had been meeting continuously with Russian officials. And that is what struck me very hard and that is what I focused my answer on. In retrospect, I should have slowed down and said: But I did meet one Russian official a couple of times—that would be the ambassador.”

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