A transcript of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on June 13. This transcript will be updated.
CHAIRMAN RICHARD BURR: Attorney General Sessions, appreciate your willingness to appear before the committee today. I thank you for your years of dedicated service as a member of this body, and your recent leadership at the Department of Justice. As I mentioned when Director Comey appeared before us last week, this committee’s role is to be the eyes and ears for the other 85 members of the United States Senate and for the American people, ensuring that the intelligence community is operating lawfully and has the necessary tools to keep America safe. The community is a large and diverse place.
We recognize the gravity of our investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. elections, but I remind our constituents that, while we investigate Russia, we are scrutinizing CIA’s budget, while we are investigating Russia, we are still scrutinizing CIA’s budget, NSA’s 702 program, our nation’s satellite program, and the entire IC effort to recruit and retain the best talent we can find in the world. More often than not, the committee conducts its work behind closed doors, a necessary step to ensure that our most sensitive sources and methods are protected. The sanctity of these sources and methods are at the heart of the intelligence community’s ability to keep us safe and to keep our allies safe from those who seek to harm us.
I’ve said repeatedly that I did not believe any committee — that the committee does should be done in public. But I also recognize the gravity of the committee’s current investigation and the need for the American people to be presented the facts so that they might make their own judgments. It is for that reason that this committee has now held its tenth open hearing of 2017–more than double that of the committee in recent years, and the fifth on the topic of Russian interference. Attorney General Sessions, this venue is your opportunity to separate fact from fiction and to set the record straight on a number of allegations reported in the press. For example, there are several issues that I’m hopeful we will address today. One, did you have any meetings with Russian officials or their proxies on behalf of the Trump campaign or during your time as attorney general? Two, what was your involvement with candidate Trump’s foreign policy team and what were their possible interactions with Russians? Three, why did you decide to recuse yourself from the government’s Russia investigation? And, fourth, what role, if any, did you play in the removal of then-FBI director Comey? I look forward to a candid and honest discussion as we continue to pursue the truth behind Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections. The committee’s experienced staff is interviewing the relevant parties, having spoken to more than 35 individuals to date–to include just yesterday, an interview of former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. We also continue to review some of the most sensitive intelligence in our country’s possession.
As I’ve said previously, we will establish the facts, separate from rampant speculation, and lay them out for the American people to make their own judgment. Only then will we as a nation be able to put this episode to rest and look to the future. I’m hopeful that members will focus their questions today on the Russia investigation and not squander the opportunity by taking political or partisan shots.
The Vice Chairman and I continue to lead this investigation together on what is a highly charged political issue. We may disagree at times, but we remain a unified team with a dedicated, focused and professional staff working tirelessly on behalf of the American people to find the truth. The committee has made much progress as the political winds blow forcefully around us, and I think all members would agree that despite a torrent of public debate on who and what committee might be best suited to lead on this issue, the intelligence committee has lived up to its obligation to move forward with purpose and above politics. Mr. Attorney General, it’s good to have you back. I would now turn to the vice chairman for any remarks he might have.
VICE CHAIRMAN MARK WARNER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And I want to also thank the way that we’re proceeding on this investigation. Mr. Attorney General, it is good to see you again. And we appreciate your appearance on the heels of Mr. Comey’s revealing testimony last week.
I do, though, want to take a moment at the outset and first express some concern with the process by which we are seeing you, the attorney general, today. It is my understanding that you were originally scheduled to testify in front of the House and Senate Appropriations committees today. I know those appearances have been canceled to come here instead. While we appreciate his testimony, before our committee, I believe — and I believe I speak for many of my colleagues — that I believe he should also answer questions from members of those committees and the Judiciary Committee as well. Mr. Attorney General, it’s my hope that you will reschedule those appearances as soon as possible.
In addition, I want to say at the outset that while we consider your appearance today as just the beginning of our interaction with you and your department, Mr. Attorney General, we had always expected to talk to you as part of our investigation. We believed it would be actually later in the process. We’re glad to accommodate your request to speak to us today, but we also expect to have your commitment to cooperate with all future requests and make yourself available, as necessary, to this committee for, as the chairman indicated with be this very important investigation.
Now let’s move to the subject of today’s discussion. Let’s start with the campaign. You were an early and ardent supporter of Mr. Trump. In March, you were named as chairman of the Trump campaign’s national security advisory committee. You were much more than a surrogate, you were strategic advisor who helped shape much of the campaign’s national security strategy. No doubt, you will have key insights about some of the key Trump associates that were seeking to hear from in the weeks ahead.
Questions have also been raised about some of your own interactions with Russian officials during the campaign. During your confirmation hearing in January you said, "You did not have communications with Russians. Senator Leahy later asked you in writing whether you had been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election. You answered, I believe with a definitive, no. Despite that fact, despite that, the fact is, as we discovered later, that you did have interactions with Russian government officials during the course of the campaign.
In March you acknowledged two meetings with the Russian ambassador. Yet, there has been public reports of a possible third meeting at the Mayflower Hotel on April 27th. I hope that today, you will help clear up the discrepancies. We’d also expect and I hope you will be able to provide the committee with any documents we need to shed light on the issue such as e-mails or calendars.
Then there is a topic of the firing of former Director Comey. Last Thursday, we received testimony from Mr. Comey under oath. He outlined his troubling interactions with the president as well as the circumstances of his firing. A few disturbing points stood out. Mr. Comey, who has decades of experience at the Department of Justice and the FBI serving under presidents of both parties was so unnerved by the actions of the president that he felt compelled to fully document every interaction they had.
Mr. Comey sat where you are sitting today and testified that he was concerned that the President of the United States might lie about the nature of their meetings. That’s a shocking statement from one of the nation’s top law enforcement official. We heard that Director Comey took it as a direction from the president that he was to drop the FBI’s investigation into former adviser Mike Flynn. Finally, we heard from Mr. Comey that he believes he was fired over his handling of the Russia investigation. The president himself confirmed this in statements to the media. This is deeply troubling for all of us who believe on both sides in preserving the Independence of the FBI.
We have a lot of work in order to follow-up on these alarming disclosures. Mr. Attorney General, your testimony today is an opportunity to begin the process of asking those questions. For instance again, I know others will ask about this: You recused yourself from the Russia investigation and participated in the firing over the handling of that same investigation. We want to ask how you view your recusal and whether you believe you complied fully. We heard from Mr. Comey that the president asked to you leave the Oval Office so he could speak one-on-one with Mr. Comey. Again, a very concerning action. We will need to hear from you about how you viewed the president’s request and whether you thought it was appropriate. We also want to know if you are aware of any attempts by the president to enlist leaders in the intelligence community to undermine this same Russia investigation.
Most importantly, our committee will want to hear what you are doing to ensure that the Russians or any other foreign adversaries cannot attack our democratic process like this ever again. I’m concerned that the president still does not recognize the severity of the threat. He, to date, has not acknowledged the conclusions of the intelligence community that Russia massively intervened in our elections. The threat we face is real. It’s not limited to us. The recent effects in France gives us a stark reminder that all western democracies must take steps to protect themselves. The United States can and must be a leader in this effort, but it will require the administration to get serious about this. Finally, we have seen a concerning pattern of administration officials refusing to answer public, unclassified questions about allegations about the president in this investigation. We had a hearing with this subject last week. I want to commend the chairman who at the end of that hearing made clear that our witnesses, it was not acceptable for them to come forward without answers. The the American people deserve to hear what’s going on here. Thank you Mr. Chairman, I look forward to the witness’ testimony.
ATTORNEY GENERAL JEFF SESSIONS: Thank you very much, Chairman Burr and ranking member Warner for allowing me to publicly appear before your committee today. I appreciate the committee’s critically important efforts to investigate Russian interference with our democratic processes.
Such interference can never be tolerated and I encourage every effort to get to the bottom of any such allegations. As you know, the Deputy Attorney General has appointed a special counsel to investigate the matters related to the Russian interference in the 2016 election. I’m here today to address several issues that have been specifically raised before this committee. And I appreciate the opportunity to respond to questions as fully as the Lord enables me to do so. As I advise you, Mr. Chairman, with long standing Department of Justice practice, I cannot and will not violate my duty to protect confidential communications I have with the president. Let me address 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 separately prior to the speech attended by the president today. I attended a reception with my staff, that included at least two dozen people and President Trump, though I do recall several conversations I had during that pre-speech reception, and I do not have 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 in that reception, I do not remember it. After the speech, I was interviewed by the news media. There was an area for that in a different room and then I left the hotel. Whether I attended a reception where the Russian ambassador was also present is entirely beside the point of this investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign.
Let me state this clearly, colleagues. I have never met with or had any conversation with any Russians or any foreign officials concerning any type of interference with any campaign or election in the United States. Further, I have no knowledge of any such conversations by anyone connected to the Trump campaign. I was your colleague in this body for 20 years, at least some of you. And the suggestion that I participated in any collusion that I was aware of, any collusion with the Russian government to hurt this country which I have served with honor for 35 years, or to undermine the integrity of our democratic process an appalling and detestable lie. Relatedly, there is the assertion that I did not answer Senator Franken’s question honestly in my confirmation hearing.
Colleagues, that is false. I can’t say colleagues now. I’m no longer a part of this body, but a former colleague. That is false. This is what happened. Senator Franken asked me a rambling question after some six hours of testimony that included dramatic new allegations that the United States intelligence community, the U.S. 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." I was taken aback by that explosive allegation which he said was being reported as breaking news that very day, in which I had not heard. I wanted to refute that immediately. Any suggestion that I was part of such an activity.
I replied to Senator Franken this way. "Senator Franken, I’m not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians and I’m unable to comment on it."
That was the context in which I was asked the question and in this that context my answer was a fair and correct response to the charge as I understood it. I was responding to the allegation That surrogates had been meeting with Russians on a regular basis. It simply did not occur to me to go further than the context and to list any conversations that I may have had with Russians in routine situations as I had many routine meetings with other foreign officials.
So please hear me now. It was only in March, after my confirmation hearing, that a reporter asked my spokesperson whether I had ever met with any Russian officials. This was a first time that question had squarely been posed to me. On the same day, we provided that reporter with the information related to the meeting that I and my staff 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.
I also provided the reporter with a list of 25 foreign ambassador meetings that I had had during 2016. In addition, I provided supplemental testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee to explain this event. So I readily acknowledged these two meetings and certainly not one thing happened that was improper in any one of those meetings. Let me also explain clearly the circumstances of my recusal from the investigation into the Russian interference with the 2016 election. Please, colleagues, hear me on this. I was sworn in as Attorney General on Thursday, February 9th. The very next day as I had promised to the judiciary committee I would do at least at an early date, I met with the career department officials including a senior ethics official to discuss things publicly reported in the press that might have some bearing on whether or not I should recuse myself in this case. From that point, February 10th until I announced my formal recusal on March 2nd, I was never briefed on any investigative details, did not access any information about the investigation. I received only the limited information that the department’s career officials determined was necessary for me to form and make a recusal decision.
As such, I have no knowledge about this investigation as it is ongoing today beyond what has been reported. I don’t even read that carefully. I have taken no action whatsoever with regard to any such investigation. On the date of my formal recusal, my chief of staff sent an e-mail to the heads of relevant departments including by name to director Comey of the FBI to instruct them to inform their staffs of this recusal and advise them not to brief me or involve me in any way in any such matters. In fact they have not. Importantly I recuse myself not because of any asserted wrongdoing or any that I may have been involved in any wrongdoing in the campaign, but because a Department of Justice regulation. 28 cfr 45.2 I felt required it.
That regulation states in effect that department employees should not participate in investigations of a campaign if they served as a campaign adviser. So the scope of my recusal however does not and cannot interfere with my ability to oversee the Department of Justice, including the FBI which has an $8 billion budget and 35,000 employees. I presented to the president my concerns and those of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein about the ongoing leadership issues at the FBI as stated in my letter recommending the removal of Mr. Comey along with the Deputy Attorney General’s memorandum on that issue, which have been released by the White House. Those represent a clear statement of my views. I adopted Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein’s points he made in his memorandum and made my recommendation. It is absurd, frankly, to suggest that a recusal from a single specific investigation would render the attorney general unable to manage the leadership of the various department of justice law enforcement components that conduct thousands of investigations.
Finally, during his testimony, Mr. Comey discussed a conversation he had with the president. I’m happy to share with the committee my recollection of that conversation that I had with Mr. Comey. Following a routine morning threat briefing, Mr. Comey spoke to me and my chief of staff. While he did not provide me with any of the substance of his conversation with the president, apparently the day before, Mr. Comey expressed concern about proper communications protocol with the white house and with the president.
I responded. He didn’t recall this, but I responded to his comment by agreeing that the FBI and the department of justice needed to be careful to follow department policies regarding appropriate contacts with the white house. Mr. Comey had served in the department for better than two decades and I was confident he understood and would abide by the well established rules limiting communications with the White House, especially about ongoing investigations.
That’s what is so important to control. My comments encouraged him to do just that and indeed as I understand it, he in fact did that. Our Department of Justice rules on proper communications 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. I will finish with this. I recuse myself from any investigation into the campaign for president, but I did not recuse myself from defending my honor against false allegations.
At all times throughout the course of the campaign, the confirmation process, and since becoming Attorney General, I have dedicated myself to the highest standards. I have earned a reputation for that. At home and in this body, I believe. Over decades of performance. The people of this country expect an honest and transparent government and that’s what we are giving them. This president wants to focus on the people of this country to ensure they are treated fairly and kept safe. The trump agenda is to improve the lives of the American people.
I know some have different ways of achieving that and different agendas, but that is his agenda and one I share. Importantly as attorney general, I have a responsibility to enforce the laws of this nation to protect this country from its enemies and I intend to work every day with the fine team and the superb professionals in the department of justice to advance the important work we have to do. These false attacks and innuendos and the leaks, you can be sure will not intimidate me. These events have only strengthened my resolve to fulfill my duty. My duty to reduce crime and support the federal, state, and local law enforcement who work on the streets every day.
Just last week it was reported that overdosed deaths in this country are rising faster than ever recorded. Last year was 52,000 and The New York Times just estimated next year will be 62,000 overdose deaths. The murdis up over 10%. Together we are telling the gangs and cartels and the fraudsters and the terrorists we are coming after you.
Every one of our citizens no matter who they are or where they live has the right to be safe in their homes and communities. I will not be deter and allow this great department to be deterred from its vital mission. Thank you, Mr. Chairman and ranking member Warner. I have a great honor to appear before you today and will do my best to answer your questions.
BURR: General Sessions, thank you for that testimony. I would like to note for members, the chair and the vice chairman will be recognized for 10 minutes and members for five minutes. I would like to remind our members that we are in open session. No references to classified or committee-sensitive materials should be used relative to your questions. With that I recognize myself at this time for 10 minutes.
General Sessions, you talked about the Mayflower hotel where the president gave his first foreign policy speech. It has been covered in the press that the president was there and you were there and others were there. From your testimony, you said you don’t remember whether the ambassador from Russia was there.
SESSIONS: I did not remember that, but I understand he was there. So I don’t doubt that he was. I believe that representations are correct. I recently saw a video of him coming into the room.
BURR: You never remember having a conversation or meeting with the ambassador?
SESSIONS: I do not.
BURR: Was there ever a private room setting that you were involved in?
SESSIONS: No, other than the reception area that was shut off from I guess the main crowd. Two to three dozen people. BURR: I would take for granted that the president shook some hands. SESSIONS: He came in and shook hands in the group.
BURR: Okay. You mentioned that there were staff with you at that event.
SESSIONS: My legislative director at the time —
BURR: Your Senate staff?
SESSIONS: Senate legislative director who was a retired U.S. Army colonel, had served on the armed services staff with Senator John Warner before she joined my staff was with me in the reception area and throughout the rest of the events.
BURR: Would you say you were there as a United States Senator or as a surrogate of the campaign for this event?
SESSIONS: I came there as an interested person and very anxious to see how President Trump would do in his first major foreign policy address. I believe he had only given one major speech before and that was maybe at the Jewish event.
It was an interesting time for me to observe his delivery and the message he would make. That was my main purpose of being there.
BURR: You reported two other meetings with the ambassador, one in July on the sidelines of the Republican convention, I believe and one in September in your senate office. Have you had any other interactions with government officials over the year in a campaign capacity? I’m not asking you from the standpoint of your single life, but in the campaign.
SESSIONS: No, Mr. Chairman. No. I’ve racked my brain to make sure I could answer those questions correctly and I did not. I would just offer for you that the — when asked about whether I had any meetings with Russians by the reporter in March, we immediately recalled the conversation and the encounter I had at the convention and the meeting in my office and made that public. I never intended not to include that. I would have gladly have reported the meeting and encounter that may have occurred and some say occurred in the Mayflower if I had remembered it or if it actually occurred, which I don’t remember that it did.
BURR: On March 2nd, 2017, you recused yourself in the investigation being conducted by the FBI and the Department of Justice. What are the specific reasons that you chose to recuse yourself?
SESSIONS: The specific reason, chairman, is a cfr code of federal regulations put out by the Department of Justice. Part of the Department of Justice rules and it says this. I will read from it. 28 cfr 45.2. Unless authorized, no employee shall participate in a criminal investigation or prosecution if he had a personal or political relationship with any person involved in the conduct of an investigation that goes on to say for political campaign and it says if you have a close identification with an elected official or candidate arising from service as a principal adviser, you should not participate in an investigation of that campaign. Many have suggested that my recusal is because I felt I was a subject of the investigation myself, I may have done something wrong. This is the reason I recused myself: I felt I was required to under the rules of the Department of Justice and as a leader of the Department of Justice, I should comply with the rules obviously.
BURR: Did your legal counsel know from day one you would have to recuse yourself because of the current statute?
SESSIONS: I have a timeline of what occurred. I was sworn in on the 9th, I believe, of February. I then on the 10th had my first meeting to generally discuss this issue where the cfr was not discussed. We had several other meetings and it became clear to me over time that I qualified as a significant, principal adviser-type person to the campaign and it was the appropriate and right thing for me.
BURR: This could explain Director Comey’s comments that he knew there was a likelihood you would recuse yourself because he was familiar with the same statute?
SESSIONS: Probably so. I’m sure that the attorneys in the Department of Justice probably communicated with him. Mr. Chairman, let me say this to you clearly. In effect as a matter of fact, I recused myself that day. I never received any information about the campaign. I thought there was a problem with me being able to serve as attorney general over this issue and I felt I would have to recuse myself and I took the position correctly, I believe, not to involve myself in the campaign in any way and I did not.
BURR: You made a reference to the chief of staff sending out an e-mail immediately notifying internationally of your decision to recuse. Would you ask the staff to make that e-mail available? SESSIONS: We would be pleased to do so and I have it with me now.
BURR: Thank you. Have you had intersections with the special counsel Robert muller?
SESSIONS: I have not. With regard to the e-mail we sent out, director Comey indicated that he did not know when I recused myself or receive notice, one of them went to him by name. A lot happens in our offices. I’m not accusing him of wrongdoing and it was sent to him and to his name.
BURR: Okay. General Sessions, you said he testified about his interactions with the president in some cases highlighting your presence with the meetings. You addressed the meeting where all were asked to leave except for director Comey. You said he did inform you of how uncomfortable that was. Your recommendation was that the FBI and DOJ needed to follow the rules limning further correspondence. Did Director Comey express additional discomfort with conversations that the president might have had with him? He had two additional meetings and a total of six phone calls.
SESSIONS: That is correct. There is nothing wrong with the president having communication with the FBI director. What is problematic for any Department of Justice employee is to talk to any cabinet persons or White House officials about ongoing investigations that are not properly cleared through the top levels of the Department of Justice. So it was a regulation I think is healthy. I thought we needed and strongly believe we need to restore discipline to adhere to just those kinds of rules and leaking rules and some of the other things that I think are a bit lax and need to be restored.
BURR: You couldn’t have had a conversation with the president about the investigation because you were never briefed on some.
SESSIONS: That is correct. I would note that with regard to the private meeting that Director Comey had by his own admission, I believe, as many as six such meetings. Several them he had with President Trump. I think two with President Obama. It’s not improper, per se, but it would not be proper to share information without review and permission.
BURR: Just one last question. You were the chair of this foreign policy team for the Trump campaign. To the best of your knowledge, did that team ever meet?
SESSIONS: We met a couple of times. Maybe a couple of people did. We never functioned as a coherent team.
BURR: Were there any members you never met?
BURR: Okay. Vice chairman.
WARNER: Thank you, General Sessions. As I mentioned in my opening statement, we appreciate your appearance, but see this as the first step and I would like to get your commitment that you will agree to make yourself available as the committee needs in the weeks and months ahead.
SESSIONS: Senator, I will commit to appear before the committees and others as appropriate. I don’t think it’s good policy to continually bring cabinet members or the attorney general before multiple committees going over the same things over and over.
WARNER: Appropriations committee raised that issue.
SESSIONS: I just gave you my answer.
WARNER: Can we get your commitment since there will be questions about the meetings that took place or not, access to documents or memoranda or your day book or something?
SESSIONS: We will be glad to provide appropriate responses to your questions and review them carefully.
WARNER: Yesterday a friend of the president was reported to suggesting that President Trump was considering removing Director Mueller as special counsel. Do you have confidence in director Mueller’s ability to conduct the investigation fairly and impartially?
SESSIONS: I don’t know about the reports and have no basis to —
WARNER: I’m asking —
SESSIONS: The validity. I have known Mr. Mueller over the years and he served 12 years as FBI director. I knew him before that. I have confidence in Mr. Mueller.
WARNER: You have confidence he will do the job?
SESSIONS: I will not discuss hypotheticals or what might be a factual situation in the future that I’m not aware of today. I know nothing about the investigation. I fully recuse myself.
WARNER: I have a series of questions, sir. Do you believe the president has confidence?
SESSIONS: I have not talked to him about it.
WARNER: Will you commit to the committee not to take personal actions that might not result in director Mueller’s firing or dismissal?
SESSIONS: I can say that with confidence. In fact the way it works, Senator Warner is that the acting attorney general.
WARNER: I’m aware, but I wanted to get you on the record.
SESSIONS: Deputy attorney general. —
WARNER: You would not take any actions to have the special investigator removed.
SESSIONS: I don’t think that’s appropriate for me to do.
WARNER: To your knowledge, have any Department of Justice officials been involved with conversations about any possibility of presidential pardons about any of the individuals involved with the Russia investigation?
SESSIONS: Mr. Chairman, I’m not able to comment on conversations with high officials within the white house. That would be a violation of the communications rule that I have to —
WARNER: Just so I can understand, is the basis of that unwilling to answer based on executive privilege?
SESSIONS: It’s a long standing policy. The department of justice not to comment on conversations that the attorney general had with the president of the united States for confidential reasons that rounded in the coequal branch.
WARNER: Just so I understand, is that mean you claim executive privilege?
SESSIONS: I’m not claiming executive privilege because that’s the president’s power and I have no power there.
WARNER: What about conversations with other Department of Justice or White House officials about potential pardons? Not the president, sir.
SESSIONS: Without in any way suggesting I had any conversations concerning pardons, totally apart from that, there are privileges of communication within the department of justice that we share all of us do. We have a right to have full and robust debate within the Department of Justice and encourage people to speak up and argue cases on different sides. Those arguments are not — historically we have seen they shouldn’t be revealed.
WARNER: I hope you agree since you recused yourself that if the president or others would pardon someone during the midst of this investigation while our investigation or Mr. Mueller’s investigation, that would be problematic. One of the comments you made in your testimony is you reached a conclusion about then-Director Comey’s ability to lead the FBI and you agreed with Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein’s memo. The fact that you worked with Comey for sometime, did you ever have a conversation as a superior of Director Comey with his failure to perform or some of these accusations that he was not running in a good way and somehow the FBI is in turmoil. Did you have any conversations about the subjects?
SESSIONS: I did not.
WARNER: So you were his superior and there were fairly harsh things said about Director Comey. You never thought it was appropriate to raise those concerns before he was absolutely terminated by the president?
SESSIONS: I did not do so. A memorandum was prepared by the deputy attorney general who evaluated his performance and noted serious problems with it.
WARNER: You agreed with those?
SESSIONS: I agreed with those. In fact senator Warner, we talked about it before I was confirmed and before he was confirmed. It’s something we both agreed to that a fresh start at the FBI was probably the best thing.
WARNER: It again seems a little — I understand if you talk about that before you came on and had a chance for a fresh start. There was no fresh start. Suddenly we are in the midst of the investigation and with timing it seems peculiar that what was out of the blue he fires the FBI director and all the problems of disarray and a lack of the accord with the FBI that he denied is the case, I would think that somebody would have had that conversation. Let’s go to the April 27th meeting. It is brought up and I think the chairman brought it up. By that time, you had been named as the chair of then-candidate Trump’s advisory. Showing up, that meeting would be appropriate.
SESSIONS: That was the Mayflower hotel?
WARNER: Yes, sir. My understanding was that the president’s son in law Jared Kushner was at that meeting as well.
SESSIONS: I believe he was, yes.
WARNER: You don’t reccollect when he had the conversations with the ambassador?
SESSIONS: I do not.
WARNER: To the best of your memory you had no conversation with him at that meet something.
SESSIONS: I don’t recall that, senator. Certainly I can assure you nothing improper if I had a conversation with him. It’s conceivable, but I don’t remember it.
WARNER: There was nothing in your notes or memory so when you had a chance and you did correct the record about the other two sessions in response to senator Franken and Leahy, this didn’t pop into your memory with the caution you had to report that this session as well.
SESSIONS: I guess I can say that I possibly had a meeting, but I still do not recall it. I did not in any way fail to record something in my testimony or in my subsequent letter intentionally false.
WARNER: I understand. I’m trying to understand you corrected the record and clearly by the time you get a chance to correct the record, you would have known that the ambassador was at that April 27th session. It received quite a bit of press notoriety. And again, echoing what the chairman said, again for the record, there was no other meeting with any other officials of the Russian government in the campaign season.
SESSIONS: Not to my recollection. I would say with regard to the two encounters, one at the Mayflower hotel that you refer to, I came here not knowing he was going to be there. I didn’t have any communications with him before or after that event. Likewise at the effect at the convention went off the convention grounds to a college campus for an event.
WARNER: At the Mayflower —
SESSIONS: Let me follow-up on that one. I didn’t know he would be in the audience.
WARNER: At the Mayflower there was this vip reception first and people went into the speech. Just so I get a —
SESSIONS: That’s my recollection.
WARNER: You were part of the vip reception?
WARNER: General Sessions, one of the troubling things that I need to sort through is Mr. Comey’s testimony last week is he felt uncomfortable when the president asked everyone else to leave the room. He left the impression that you lingered with perhaps the sense that you felt uncomfortable with it as well. I will allow you to correct it if it’s not right. After this meeting took place, which clearly director Comey felt had a level of uncomfortableness. You never asked him what took place in that meeting?
SESSIONS: I will say it this way. We were there and I was standing there and without revealing any conversation that took place, what I recall is that I did depart and I believe everyone else did depart and Director Comey was sitting in front of the president’s desk and they were talking. I believe it was the next day that he said something and expressed concern about being left alone with the president.
That in itself is not problematic. He did not tell me at that time any details about anything that was said that was improper. I affirmed his concern that we should be following the proper guidelines of the Department of Justice and basically backed him up in his concerns. He should not carry on any conversation with the president or anyone else about an investigation in a way that was not proper.
I felt he so long in the want it, the former deputy attorney general knew the policy a good deal better than I did.
WARNER: Thank you. It did appear that Mr. Comey felt that the conversation was improper.
SESSIONS: He was concerned about it. His recollection of what he said to me about his concern is consistent with my recollection.
RISCH: Attorney General Sessions, good to hear you talk about how important this Russian interference and active measures on the campaign is. I don’t think there is any American who would disagree with the fact this we need to drill down to this, know what happened, get it out in front of the American people and do what we can to stop it again. That’s what the committee was charged to do and started to do. As you know on February 14th, The New York Times published an article alleging that there were constant communications between the Trump campaign and the Russians in collusion regarding the elections. Do you recall that article when it came out?
SESSIONS: Not exactly.
SESSIONS: Generally I remember the charges.
RISCH: Mr. Comey told us when he was here last week, he had a specific recollection. He chased it down through the intelligence community and was not able to find that evidence and then sought out both Republicans and Democrats to tell them that this was false and there was no such facts anywhere. Nonetheless, after that, this committee took that on as a thing we have spent really substantially more time on the Russian active measures. We have been through thousands of pages of information, interviewed witnesses and everything else who were no different than where we were when this thing started. There is no reports they know of of any factual information. Are you aware of any such information?
SESSIONS: Is that from the dossier or so-called dossier? I believe that’s the report that Senator Franken hit me with when I was testifying–I think it’s been pretty substantially discredited but you would know more than I. But what was said that would suggest I participated in the continuing communications with Russians as a surrogate is absolutely false?
RISCH: Mr. Sessions, there has been all this talk about conversations and you had conversations with the Russians. Senators up here who were on foreign relations and intelligence or armed services, conversations with officers of other governments or ambassadors or what you are everyday occurrences here, multiple time occurrences for most of us. Is that a fair statement?
SESSIONS: I think it is, yes.
RISCH: Indeed you run into one in the grocery store. Is that fair?
SESSIONS: That could very well happen. We did nothing improper.
RISCH: On the other hand collusion with the Russians or any other government when it comes to elections certainly would be improper and illegal. That that be a fair statement?
RISCH: You willing to tell the American people unfiltered by what the media will put out you participated in no conversations of any kind where there was collusion between the trump campaign and a foreign government?
SESSIONS: I can say that absolutely and have no hesitation to do so.
RISCH: The former U.S. Attorney and the attorney general of the United States, you participated as you described in the trump campaign. You travelled with the campaign?
SESSIONS: I did.
RISCH: You spoke for the campaign?
SESSIONS: Not continually on the —
RISCH: Based approximate your experience and based approximate your participation, did you hear a whisper or a suggestion or anyone saying the Russians were involved?
SESSIONS: I would not.
RISCH: What would you have done?
SESSIONS: Would know it was improper.
RISCH: You would head for the exit.
SESSIONS: This is a serious matter. You are talking about hacking into a private person or DNC computer and obtaining information and spreading that out. That’s not right. It’s likely that laws were violated if laws occurred. It’s an improper thing.
RISCH: Has any person from the White House to the administration including the president of the United States either directed you or asked to you do any unlawful or illegal act since you have been attorney general of the United States?
RISCH: No, Senator Risch. They have not.
RISCH: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
BURR: Senator Feinstein.
FEINSTEIN: Thanks very much, Mr. Chairman. Welcome, attorney general.
SESSIONS: Thank you.
FEINSTEIN: On May 19th, Mr. Rosenstein in a statement to the House of Representatives, essentially told them he learned on May 8th President Trump intended to remove Director Comey. When you wrote your letter on May 9, did you know that the president had already decided to fire Director Comey?
SESSIONS: Senator Feinstein, I would say I believe it has been made public that the president asked us our opinion and it was given and he asked us to put that in writing. I don’t know how much more he said than that, but he talked about it and I would let his words speak for themselves.
FEINSTEIN: Well, on May 11th on NBC Nightly News two days later, the president stated he would fire Comey regardless of the recommendation. I’m puzzled about the recommendation because the decision had been made. What was the need for you to write a recommendation?
SESSIONS: Well, we were asked our opinion and when we expressed it which was consistent with the letter we wrote, I felt comfortable and I asks the attorney general did too in providing that information in writing.
FEINSTEIN: Do you concur with the president he was going to fire Comey regardless of recommendation because the problem was the Russian investigation?
SESSIONS: Senator Feinstein, I will have to let his words speak for himself. I’m not sure what was in his mind explicitly when we talked to him.
FEINSTEIN: Did you discuss director Comey’s handling of the investigations with the president or anyone else?
SESSIONS: Senator Feinstein, that would call for a communication between the director and the president and I’m not able to comment on that.
FEINSTEIN: You are not able to answer the question here whether you discussed that with him?
SESSIONS: That’s correct.
FEINSTEIN: And how do you view that since you discussed his termination, why wouldn’t you discuss the reasons?
SESSIONS: Well, those were put in writing and sent to the president and he made those public. He made that public.
FEINSTEIN: You had no verbal conversation with him about the firing of Mr. Comey?
SESSIONS: I’m not able to discuss with you or confirm or deny the nature of a private conversation that I may have had with the president on this subject or others. I know this will be discussed, but that’s the rules that have been adhered to by the Department of Justice as you know.
FEINSTEIN: You are a long time colleague, but we heard Mr. Coats and Admiral Rogers say essentially the same thing. When it was easy just to say if the answer was no, no.
SESSIONS: The easy would have been easier to say yes, yes. Both would have been improper.
FEINSTEIN: Okay. So how exactly were you involved in the termination of director Comey? Because I am looking at your letter dated May 9 and you say the Director of the FBI must be someone who follows faithfully the rules and principles and sets the right example for our law enforcement officials therefore I must recommend you remove director Comey and identify an experience and qualified individual to lead the great men and women of the FBI. Do you really believe that this had to do with director Comey’s performance with the men and women of the FBI?
SESSIONS: There was a clear view of mine and of Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein as he set out at some length in his memoranda which I adopted and sent forward to the president that we had problems there and it was my best judgment that a fresh start at FBI was the appropriate thing to do. And when I said that to the president, deputy Rosenstein’s letter dealt with a number of things. When Mr. Comey declined the Clinton prosecution, that was really a usurpation of the authority of the federal prosecutors in the Department of Justice. It was a stunning development. The FBI is the investigative team. They don’t decide the prosecution policies.
That was a thunderous thing. He also commented at some length on the declination of the Clinton prosecution which you should not do. Policies have been historic. If you decline, you decline and don’t talk about it. There were other things that had happened that indicated to me a lack of discipline and it caused controversy on both sides of the aisle and I had come to the conclusion that a fresh start was appropriate and did not mind putting that in writing.
FEINSTEIN: My time is up. Thank you very much.