Jeff Sessions speaks about Russia before US Senate panel

Attorney General Jeff Sessions during his confirmation hearing.                                   
           CBS News

Attorney General Jeff Sessions during his confirmation hearing. CBS News

Sessions spent more than 2 1/2 hours before the Senate Intelligence Committee, which included several testy exchanges with Democratic senators who accused him of obstructing their investigation.

Senators will challenge Sessions on issues raised by Comey's testimony, about his own behavior, new questions about his meetings with Russian officials and possibly his apparently tense relationship with Trump.

Mr Sessions refused to say whether he had ever discussed the Russian Federation investigation with Mr Trump, arguing that he could not disclose private communications with the president.

Asked to explain his decision, the attorney general said he believed he had to recuse himself under Department of Justice rules.

Speculation around Sessions has ramped up since former FBI Director James Comey's testimony last week. The attorney general said he did not engage in improper conversations with Russian officials while he was campaigning for President Trump. He cut his teeth as a federal prosecutor in Mobile, Alabama, at the height of the drug war, and numerous policies he has tried to implement as attorney general have roots in that time period.

Washington power-players have pushed back against the suggestion that the special counsel investigating the Russian Federation affair could be fired, moving to tamp down the sudden talk bubbling up from allies of U.S. President Donald Trump.

"You are not answering questions".

Sessions' clash with the Democratic senators was the latest chapter in a saga that has dogged Trump in his first five months as president and distracted from his domestic policy agenda including major healthcare and tax cut initiatives. The true stars to come out of this hearing were Sen. Following a routine morning threat briefing, Mr. Comey spoke to me and my Chief of Staff.

Before he became attorney general, Sessions served two decades as a Republican senator from Alabama.

He said the intelligence agency needed a "fresh start" as it had "problems", adding that Mr Comey had caused "controversy on both sides of the aisle". On the same day, we provided that reporter with the information related to the meeting I and my staff had 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.

In a combative and emotional Senate hearing, Sessions beseeched his former Senate colleagues to believe him when he said he did not hold a meeting with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak at a speech by then-candidate Donald Trump at the Mayflower hotel a year ago. She began drilling Sessions with questions about whether he'd ever had meetings with Russian nationals to which Sessions continuously claimed, "I don't recall".

Sessions appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee just five days after James Comey, whom Trump fired as FBI director on May 9, told the panel Trump ousted him to undermine the agency's investigation of the Russian Federation matter.

"I won't mince words: You are not the witness we were supposed to hear from today, and you are not the witness who should be sitting behind that table", Leahy told Rosenstein during Tuesday's hearing. Sessions applied that answer universally, from any conversations about firing Comey, to whether the president asked him to leave the room so Trump could meet alone with Comey.

"No", Sessions joked, before admitting, "Yes, I do". Sessions wouldn't talk about whether Trump had been complaining, but suggested he's not intending to go anywhere for now. Bucket number three is to say I'm invoking executive privilege. "But that in itself is not problematic".

"I am not stonewalling", Sessions replied. "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".

Sessions said he recused himself from the Justice Department's Russian Federation investigation only because of a regulation to require the step because of his involvement in the Trump campaign.

On the date of my formal recusal, my Chief of Staff sent an email to the heads of the relevant departments, including by name to Director Comey of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, to instruct them to inform their staffs of this recusal and to advise them not to brief me or involve me in any such matters. Sessions had written a letter to Trump recommending Comey's firing.

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