Stonewalling Sessions gives nothing away

This article is more than 12 months old

WASHINGTON United States Attorney-General Jeff Sessions denounced as a "detestable lie" the idea that he colluded with Russians meddling in last year's election and clashed with Democratic lawmakers over his refusal to detail his conversations with President Donald Trump.

"The suggestion that I participated in any collusion... with the Russian government to hurt this country, which I have served with honour for over 35 years, or to undermine the integrity of our democratic process, is an appalling and detestable lie," Mr Sessions said.

Mr Sessions, a member of Mr Trump's Cabinet and an adviser to his election campaign, had a series of tense exchanges with Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee during 2½ hours of testimony as they pressed him to recount discussions with the President.

"You raised your right hand here today and said you would solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth," Democratic Senator Martin Heinrich said.

"Now you're not answering questions. You're impeding this investigation."

Mr Sessions refused to say whether he and Mr Trump discussed FBI director James Comey's handling of an investigation into possible collusion between Mr Trump's campaign and Russia before the President fired Mr Comey on May 9, Reuters reported.

Mr Sessions' testimony will be better remembered for a moment geared to 21st-century memes, The Guardian reported.

Peppered with questions by the California Democrat Kamala Harris, Mr Sessions, the former senator from Alabama with a troubled civil rights record, said: "I am not able to be rushed this fast. It makes me nervous."

A couple of senators pushed Mr Sessions hard on his basis for refusing to answer.

First he claimed that "consistent with longstanding Department of Justice practice, I cannot and will not violate my duty to protect confidential communications with the President".

Then he said that though Mr Trump had not invoked executive privilege, he may choose to do so in the future.

Few seemed satisfied with that.

Mr Sessions also declined to say if Mr Trump opposed his decision to recuse himself from the Russia probe in March and whether Justice Department officials discussed possible presidential pardons of individuals being looked at in the probe.

Democratic Senator Ron Wyden told Mr Sessions: "I believe the American people have had it with stonewalling.

"Americans don't want to hear that answers to relevant questions are privileged."

"I am not stonewalling," Mr Sessions replied.

Legal experts said there was some merit to Mr Sessions' argument.

Professor Andrew Wright of Savannah Law School and associate counsel under former president Barack Obama said it was not unusual for government employees to refuse to discuss conversations with the president in order to preserve the right to invoke executive privilege later.

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