Sessions to face sharp questions on Russia contacts

Sessions hedged nearly all of his answers about whether/when he met with Russians, or why he was involved in firing Comey, or how he feels about the president's decisions, with: "I don't recall" or "I believe so" or "maybe". They also asked if he held a secret meeting with the Russian ambassador without disclosing it to investigators. To his boss? To his former Senate colleagues?

He also declined to say if Trump opposed Sessions' decision to recuse himself from the Russian Federation probe in March, and whether Justice Department officials discussed possible presidential pardons of individuals being looked at in the probe.

- He denied that he violated his recusal by advising the president to fire the then-FBI director, James Comey. And by the time Sessions met with Kislyak at his office in September, then-President Barack Obama had already commented on the Russian hacking campaign and hinted at what could have motivated it.

Sessions told Wyden he "basically recused" himself from the Russian Federation investigation during his first day as attorney general because he "never accessed files, never learned the names of investigators, never met with them, never asked for any documentation".

"He didn't recall this, but I responded to his comment by agreeing that the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Justice needed to be careful to follow department policy regarding appropriate contacts with the White House", Sessions told the panel. Angus King (I-Maine), the senator pressed Sessions on his refusal to answer. Senators of both parties were frustrated by evasive answers they received last week from Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and other intelligence officials.

As a longtime senator from Alabama, Sessions will be granted some degree of deference, at least from Republicans.

Earlier Tuesday, Rosenstein appeared before lawmakers on the Senate Appropriations Committee. Some say he perjured himself.

In his opening remarks, Sessions said he knew of no conversations between Trump campaign individuals and Russian officials about interfering in the US election.

As FBI and congressional investigators have examined the Russian operation to boost Trump's 2016 electoral prospects, Sessions has emerged as a central figure as a result of undisclosed meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

However, Sessions refused to say whether he ever spoke with Trump about firing Comey.

Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in May wrote a memorandum to President Donald Trump recommending Comey's dismissal.

Sessions criticized Comey's handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, which the White House had initially cited as the ostensible reason for his firing.

Sessions took particular aim at news reports about a possible meeting he had with a Russian official during an April 2016 event at the Mayflower hotel, where Trump gave a pro-Russian speech.

WYDEN: The question is Mr. Comey said that there were matters with respect to the recusal that were problematic and he couldn't talk about them. "When you're recusing yourself, you are stepping aside, and this sure doesn't look like that", he said.

Trump has also signaled his disappointment with Sessions in recent weeks, but for different reasons. At least Sessions said he had "confidence" in Mueller.

If Trump were targeting Mueller, dismissing him would not be a simple matter. Trump confident Christopher Ruddy, CEO of conservative Newsmax Media, told PBS Newshour on Monday that he thought Trump "was considering perhaps terminating the special counsel", a decision that would require formal action by Rosenstein.

"I am not stonewalling", Sessions replied, saying he was simply following Justice Department policy not to discuss confidential communications with the president. Susan Collins, R-Maine. "Americans don't want to hear that answers to relevant questions are privileged or off limits".

"Attorney General Sessions, this venue is your opportunity to separate fact from fiction and to set the record straight", said Sen.

House Speaker Paul Ryan suggested Tuesday that questions about Mueller were sparked by a "rumor that's not happening" and causing a "debate that is not occurring".