When Idaho Sen. Jim Risch got his chance today to question Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, Risch led Sessions through a series of denials of any wrongdoing, suggesting occasional conversations with foreign government officials are “everyday occurrences” in the nation’s capital and that any that Sessions had were innocent.
Risch also suggested that the Intelligence Committee has wasted large amounts of time looking into a report of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia that turned out to be false.
Risch opened by saying he was glad to hear Sessions talk about “this Russian interference and active measures in our campaign. I don’t think there’s any American who would disagree with the fact that we need to drill down into this, know what happened, get it out in front of the American people, do what we can to stop it again,” he said. “And that’s what this committee was charged to do, and that’s what this committee’s started to do.”
Then, Risch asked Sessions about a New York Times article on Feb. 14 that former FBI Director James Comey referenced in his testimony to the committee last week. “You probably know on Feb. 14 the New York Times published an article alleging that there was constant communications between the Trump campaign and the Russians in collusion regarding the elections. Do you recall that article when it came out?” Risch asked.
“Not exactly,” Sessions responded, “but that was generally, I remember those charges.”
Risch said, “Mr. Comey told us, when he was here last week, that he had very specific recollections, in fact he chased it down through the intelligence community and was not able to find a scintilla of evidence to that effect. Then he sought out both Republicans and Democrats up here to tell them that this was false, that there was no, that no such facts anywhere corroborated what the New York Times had reported.”
“Nonetheless,” Risch continued, “after that, this committee took that on, it’s one of the things that we’ve spent really substantially more time on that than we have on the Russian active measures, we’ve been through thousands of pages of information, interviewed witnesses and everything else, and we’re really no different than where we were when this whole thing started. And there’s been no reports that I know of of any factual information in that regard. Are you aware of any such information?”
Sesssions said, “Is that arose from the dossier, so-called dossier, Sen Risch?” Then, he said, referring to his earlier Senate confirmation hearing, “I believe that is the report that Sen. Franken hit me with when I was testifying and I think it has been pretty substantially discredited, but you would know more than I. But what was said that would suggest I participated in continuing communications with Russians as a surrogate is absolutely false.”
Risch then asked Sessions, “There’s been all this talk about conversations, that you had some conversations with the Russians. Senators up here who are on either Foreign Relations, Intelligence, or Armed Services, conversations with officers of other governments or ambassadors or what have you are everyday occurrences here, multiple-time occurrences for most of us, is that a fair statement?”
“I think it is, yes,” Sessions responded.
“And indeed,” Risch said, “if you run into one in a grocery store, you’re going to have a conversation? Is that fair?”
“It could very well happen,” Sessions said, “nothing improper.”
“On the other hand,” Risch said, “collusion with Russians or any other governments when it comes to our elections certainly would be improper and illegal. Would that be a fair statement?”
“Absolutely,” Sessions said.
Risch said, “Are you willing to sit here and tell the American people, unfiltered by what the media is going to put out, that you participated in no conversations of any kind where there was collusion between the Trump campaign and any other foreign government?”
Sessions responded, “I can say that absolutely and I have no hesitation to do so.”
Risch then said, “Mr. Sessions, you’re a former U.S. Attorney, former United States senator, and you’re Attorney General of the United States, you participated as you’ve described in the Trump campaign. And as such you traveled with the campaign, I gather?” “I did,” Sessions said.
“You spoke for the campaign?” Risch asked. Sessions said not specifically.
Risch said, “Based upon your experience, and based upon your participation in the campaign, did you hear even a whisper or a suggestion or anyone making reference within that campaign that somehow the Russians were involved in that campaign?”
“I did not,” Sessions said.
“What would you have done if you’d have heard that?” Risch asked.
“Well, I would have been shocked and I would have known it was improper,” Sessions said, at which point Risch interjected, “And headed for the exit, I suppose?”
“Maybe,” Sessions said. “This is a serious matter. Because what you’re talking about, hacking into a private person or the DNC computer, and obtaining information, and spreading that out, that’s just not right. And I believe it’s likely that laws were violated if that actually occurred. So it’s an improper thing.”
Risch then said, “Mr. Sessions, has any person from the White House or the administration, including the president of the United States, either directed you or asked you to do any unlawful or illegal act since you’ve been Attorney General of the United States?”
“No, Sen. Risch, they did not,” Sessions responded.