Authorities from the FBI should conduct the U.S. investigation into Russia’s alleged influence over the 2016 presidential election as the most appropriate way to uncover the facts, U.S. Rep. John Faso said Tuesday.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions told senators that there was nothing nefarious about his dealings with former FBI Director James Comey and Russian officials.
Sessions testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday as part of the committee’s investigation into allegations of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Sessions said he has no knowledge about the Department of Justice’s investigation into the same matter, that his recommendation to fire Comey did not violate his recusal from the Russia investigation and that his interactions with Russian officials were not collusion.
“What is this!” Sessions said during the public hearing after tough questioning from mostly Democratic members of the committee. “The suggestion that I was involved in any collusion or had any knowledge of any collusion with Russians to hurt this country is false.”
Several reports were released based on a confidential dossier prepared by British intelligence agencies that stated Russia fed Donald Trump’s campaign information about his opposition.
The reports put members of the campaign, including Sessions, who led the campaign’s foreign policy team, in suspicion.
It was reported that Sessions met with Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak, twice last year, which he admitted to after telling Sen. Al Franken during his confirmation hearing he had not.
Sessions said Tuesday that none of the meetings were nefarious.
Another meeting was reported to have occurred between Sessions and the ambassador at the Mayflower Hotel in April where the president gave a speech on foreign policy.
On Tuesday, Sessions responded to questions about that event by saying he could not recall, a response he gave to several questions during the hearing, talking to the ambassador in passing, but that he did not have a secret meeting with the ambassador.
Sessions recused himself from the Justice Department’s investigation in March and Tuesday said he was not briefed about the investigation before or after his recusal.
Sessions also said an email was sent out to Department of Justice officials not to brief him about the investigation.
“I recused myself, not because of any asserted wrongdoing or any belief that I was involved in any wrongdoing in the campaign,” the attorney general said.
He said the reason he recused was because he was advised to do so by ethics lawyers in the department.
“I had a meeting with the senior ethics official about press reports that could have a baring on my recusal,” Sessions said. “I made my decision to recuse based on a regulation that anyone in the department cannot be involved in an investigation into a campaign if they served as a campaign advisor.”
Even with his recusal, Sessions signed off on a memorandum advising Trump to fire Comey in April, an action the attorney general said did not violate his recusal.
“It is ridiculous to think that recusal from one investigation would keep the attorney general from managing the leadership of agencies within the Department of Justice,” Sessions said. “We [Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Sessions] discussed the need to have a fresh start in the FBI before I was sworn in.”
The memorandum only cites Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails during her time as secretary of state, actions Comey said he would take again during his hearing with the same senate committee on June 8.
The president however said that he fired Comey because of his handling of the Russia investigation shortly after the memorandum was released to the public.
Sessions refused to answer several questions from senators regarding specific conversations with the president citing a department policy prohibiting discussion of private conversations with the president, including the attorney general refusing to confirm or deny if the president discussed with him Comey’s handling of the Russia investigation.
“The investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election is most appropriately conducted through the FBI, led by the special counsel’s office,” Faso, R-19, said about Sessions’ refusal to answer questions at the hearing. “The American people deserve to know the facts, and I look forward to Mr. Mueller presenting his conclusions in a setting removed from partisan politics.”
That same day Rosenstein testified in front of the congressional appropriations committee regarding the presidents proposed budget for 2018 during which he was asked similar questions about the Russia investigation.
The New York Times reported, based on information from an unnamed source, that the president was fielding the idea of firing the special counsel, Robert Mueller, who was appointed by Rosenstein to head the investigation.
Rosenstein said the president had not discussed the special counsel with him and said the ultimate decision to fire Meuller was for him to make.
“I am not going to follow any orders unless I believe those orders are lawful and appropriate,” Rosenstein said. “I have to have proper cause to fire the special counsel and I have to put that cause in writing.”
Both Department of Justice heads said they know nothing about a plan to fire Mueller and expressed confidence in the special counsel’s ability to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election independently and thoroughly.