Sessions refuses to tell Senate panel of Trump talks about Comey

"The president is entitled to have confidential communications," Sessions said Wednesday.
By Allen Cone  |  Oct. 18, 2017 at 12:31 PM
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Oct. 18 (UPI) -- U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions told the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday that he would not discuss his prior conversations with President Donald Trump, citing executive privilege.

Sessions appeared before the committee for an oversight hearing Wednesday morning.

Senators had wanted to know more about Trump's firing in May of former FBI chief James Comey, who was investigating possible collusion between Russia and the president's campaign last year. Nine Democrats said in a letter to Sessions last week they expected him to "answer members' questions fully and truthfully."

"The American people have a right to know why he was fired, especially in the middle of so many high profile investigations," Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, said in opening remarks.

Sessions said, though, in his opening statement, "Consistent with a longstanding policy and practice of the executive branch, I can neither assert executive privilege, nor can I disclose today the content of my confidential conversations with the president. As a result, during today's hearing and under these circumstances today, I will not be able to discuss the content of my conversations with the president.

"The president is entitled to have confidential communications. Until such time that the president makes an exception."

At a Senate intelligence committee hearing in June, the nation's chief law enforcement officer also refused to detail his conversations with Trump.

Earlier this year, Sessions recused himself from the Department of Justice's Russia investigation. Sessions testified in January that he'd not had any contact with Russian officials, though it was later revealed he met twice with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont said Sessions gave "false testimony."

Sessions, though, answered, "I believe my answer was correct."

"I have never had a meeting with any Russian officials to discuss any kind of coordinating campaign efforts," he added.

Sessions said he has not been been interviewed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller III, who is leading the Justice Department's Russia probe, and the firing of Comey.

The attorney general wouldn't say whether he and Trump had discussed Comey's involvement in the Russia investigation, but he offered a criticism of the former FBI director -- saying, "it's not been fully understood the significance of the error that Mr. Comey made" on the investigation of Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server.

Wednesday's hearing marked the first time Sessions has appeared before the judiciary committee since he was confirmed in January.

In his opening remarks, Sessions also defended Trump's travel ban, calling the directive an "important step" in the fight against terrorism.

"It's a lawful, necessary order that we are proud to defend," he said, adding, "We are confident we'll prevail, as time goes by, in the Supreme Court."

The latest version of the ban was blocked by a judge in Hawaii Tuesday and a Maryland judge Wednesday.

In his remarks Wednesday, Sessions also discussed Trump's decisions to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which prevents deportations of undocumented migrants who arrived in the United States as children.

"This Department of Justice respects Congress and the Constitution, and we intend to enforce the laws as you've written them. The DACA policy produced by the last administration was unlawful and contrary to the laws passed by this institution. Congress is now poised to act on this issue," Sessions said.

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