Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon had several testy exchanges during Sessions’ testimony in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday.
Wyden opened his five-minute question period by accusing Sessions of dodging questions about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
“Americans don’t want to hear that answers to relevant questions are privileged and off limits, or that they can’t be provided in public,” Wyden said. “We’re talking about an attack on our democratic institutions and stonewalling of any kind is unacceptable.”
“Senator Wyden, I am not stonewalling,” Sessions replied. “I am following the historic policies of the Department of Justice. You don’t walk into a committee meeting and reveal confidential communications with the president of the United States who is entitled to receive confidential communications and your best judgement about a host of issues.”
Watch Wyden's full questioning of Sessions: (Skip to the three-minute mark for the heated exchange)
Sessions sidestepped several questions from senators, particularly questions about his private conversations with President Donald Trump. He argued he couldn’t reveal details of discussions with the president because the president could still invoke executive privilege.
Wyden also pointed out that former FBI director James Comey said he knew of reasons why it would be “problematic” for Sessions to remain involved in the Russia investigation.
“Mr. Comey said there were matters with respect to the recusal that were problematic and he could not talk about them. What are they?” Wyden asked.
Visibly frustrated, Sessions shot back “why don’t you tell me?”
“There are none, Senator Wyden. There are none. I can tell you that for absolutely certain. This is secret innuendo being leaked out there about me and I don’t appreciate it,” Sessions added.
Wyden raised concerns that Sessions should not have been involved in the decision to fire Comey given that Sessions had recused himself from the Russia investigation that Comey oversaw. Sessions argued that recusing himself from a specific investigation didn’t preclude him from overseeing the management of the FBI.
“I want to ask your point blank, why did you sign the letter recommending the firing of Director Comey when it violated your recusal?” Wyden asked.
“It did not violate my recusal. That would be the answer to that,” Sessions responded. “The letter I signed represented my views that had been formulated for some time.”
Wyden didn’t buy it.
“That answer, in my opinion, doesn’t pass the smell test,” Wyden said. “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 this taxpayer funded charade end? I don’t think your answer passes the smell test.”