In what seemed to a pretty intense combative interaction, during Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Democratic Senator Ron Wyden asked him why he had recommended the dismissal of James Comey. Sessions was also accused by the senator of “stonewalling” the bureau’s investigation into Russian collusion.
“I believe the American people have had it with stonewalling,” Wyden began. “The American people don’t want to hear that answers relevant questions are privileged and off limits. Or that they can’t be provided in public, or that it would be ‘inappropriate’ for witnesses to tell us what they know.”
“We are talking about an attack on our democratic institutions,” he continued, “and stonewalling of any kind is unacceptable. And General Sessions has acknowledged that there is no legal basis for this stonewalling.”
“So now to questions,” Wyden said, “last Thursday I asked former Director Comey about the FBI’s interactions with you, General Sessions, prior to stepping aside from the Russian investigation. Mister Comey said that your continued engagement with the Russian investigation was ‘problematic.’ And he, Mr. Comey, could not discuss it in public.”
“Mr. Comey also said that FBI personally had been calling for you to step aside from the investigation at least two weeks before you finally did so,” he added. “Now in your prepared statement you stated you received only ‘limited information necessary to inform your recusal decision.’ but given Director Comey’s statement, we need to know what that was.”
“Where you aware of any concerns at the FBI or elsewhere in government about your contacts with the Russians,” Wyden asked, “or any other matters relevant to whether you should step aside from the Russian investigation?”
“Senator Wyden,” Sessions answered forcefully, “I am not stonewalling.”
“I am following the historic policies of the Department of Justice,” he explained. “You don’t walk into any hearing or committee meeting and reveal confidential communications with the president of the United States, who’s entitled to receive confidential communications in your best judgement about a host of issues. And after being accusing of stonewalling for not answering, so I would push back on that.”
“Secondly, Mr. Comey, perhaps he didn’t know,” Sessions continued, “but I basically recused myself the day, the first day I got into office, because I never accessed files, I never learned the names of investigators, I never met with them, I never asked for any documentation, the documentation of what little I received was mostly already available in the media and was presented by the senior ethics public responsibility, professional responsibility attorney in the department.”
“General Sessions,” Wyden said after some disagreement, “respectfully, you’re not answering the question.”
“Well what is the question?” Sessions demanded.
“The question is, Mr. Comey said that there were matters with respect to the recusal that were problematic and he couldn’t talk about them. What are they?”
“I, why don’t you tell me? They are none, Senator Wyden!” Sessions angrily responded. “There are none! I can tell you that for absolute certainty.”
“You, this is a secret innuendo being leaked out there about me,” Sessions accused. “And I don’t appreciate it. And I tried to give my best and truthful answers to any committee I’ve appeared before, and it’s really a, people are suggesting through innuendo that I have been not honest about matters and I’ve tried to be honest.”
“I want to ask you point blank,” Wyden continued, “why did you sign the letter recommending the firing of Director Comey when it violated your recusal?”
“It did not violate my recusal,” Sessions responded loudly. “It did not violate my recusal. That would be the answer to that, and the letter that I signed represented my views that had been formulated for some time.”
“That answer in my view doesn’t pass the smell test,” Wyden challenged him. “The president tweeted repeatedly about his anger about investigations into his associates and Russia. The day before you wrote your letter he tweeted, ‘the collusion story was a total hoax,’ and asked, ‘when will this tax-payer funded charade end?” I don’t think your answer passes the smell test.”
In response, Sessions made it clear that the letter he wrote only represented his views regarding the situation in question. In a testimony earlier, Sessions stated that he would not be answering certain questions to protect the possibility that President Trump may use his executive privilege in the future.