* Attorney General Jeff Sessions appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee to testify about his contacts with Russian officials during and after the 2016 election.
* Sessions denied any contacts with Russians about the election and called any suggestion of collusion "a detestable lie."
* Throughout the hearing, Sessions said that he is "unable to comment" on private conversations with Trump regarding Comey firing.
* Sessions repeatedly said he had "no recollection" of meeting Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC, but stopped short of denying it.
* Sessions appeared to get angry at several points during the hearing, at one point decrying "secret innuendo being leaked out there about me."
* Sessions' testimony comes after James Comey's blockbuster appearance before the same committee last week, in which Comey accused Trump's White House of lying about the reasons for his dismissal as FBI director.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions denied ever meeting or having conversations with "any Russians or any foreign officials concerning any type of interference with any campaign or election" as he began his public testimony Tuesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Sen. Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat, began his opening statement by pointing out that Sessions — during his confirmation hearing in January — said he did not have communications with Russians during the campaign, when in fact he had two meetings with the Russian ambassador.
Warner went on to say that the committee has a lot of work to do to follow up on the “alarming disclosures” made during fired FBI director James Comey’s hearing last week, and that Sessions will be vital in clarifying the events Comey described.
“We will also want to know if you are aware of any attempts by the President to enlist leaders of the intelligence community to undermine the Russia investigation,” Warner said, adding that he is concerned the president has not recognized “the severity of the [Russian] threat.”
In his opening remarks, Sessions denied having conversations with any foreign officials about interference with the campaign. "Further, I have no knowledge of any such conversations by anyone connected to the Trump campaign," he said.
As he continued his opening statements, Sessions said that he did not remember talking with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak after a speech the former Alabama Senator made at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC, in April, 2016.
“If any brief interaction occurred in passing with the Russian ambassador during that reception, I do not remember it,” Sessions said.
Sessions went on to explain that he recused himself from investigations into Russian involvement in the 2016 US presidential elections because of a Department of Justice regulation, and not because of anything nefarious.
“Importantly, I recuse myself not because of any asserted wrongdoing or any that I may have been involved in any wrongdoing in the campaign,” Sessions said. The regulation in question, Sessions said, “states in effect that department employees should not participate in investigations of a campaign if they served as a campaign adviser.”
"At all times throughout the course of the campaign, the confirmation process, and since becoming attorney general, I have dedicated myself to the highest standards."
Suggestions that he would "undermine the integrity of our democratic process," Sessions said, are "an appalling and detestable lie."
Throughout the hearing, Sessions said that he is "unable to comment" on private conversations with Trump regarding Comey firing.
Sessions also testified that he never had a conversation with Comey regarding his performance and his ability to lead the FBI.
Sen. Warner asked the Attorney General if, as Comey’s supervisor, he had a conversation with Comey regarding his failure to perform.
“I did not,” Sessions responded, adding that he agreed with the conclusions Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein wrote in the memorandum prepared before Comey’s firing.
“We had talked about it even before I was confirmed and before he was confirmed,” Sessions said. “It’s something we both agreed to, that a fresh start at the FBI was probably the best thing.”
Sessions was asked about Comey's remarks during last week's hearing that he told Sessions he did not want to be left alone with the president. The request came after a meeting in which Comey says Trump pressured him to drop the investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn's ties to Russia.
Sessions confirmed Comey "expressed concern about being left alone with the president. But that in itself is not problematic. He did not tell me at that time any details about anything that was said that was improper."
Sessions said that he believed Comey was experienced and could handle himself with the president. "I had no doubt that he would not yield to any pressure,” he said.
Sessions appeared to become angry when Sen. Ron Wyden pressed him about Comey’s remarks that the FBI knew the attorney general would recuse himself from the Russia investigation “for a variety of reasons.”
“We are aware of facts that I can’t discuss in an open setting that would make his continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic,” Comey said last week.
Wyden said the American people have the right to know more and asked Sessions to detail the “matters that were problematic.”
“Why don’t you tell me,” Sessions angrily responded. “There are none. I can tell you that with absolute certainty. This is a secret innuendo being leaked out there about me, and I don’t appreciate it.”
Sen. Martin Heinrich used his allotted time to accuse Sessions of dodging the intelligence committee's questions, hindering the usefulness of the Senate inquiry.
“My understanding is that you took an oath, you raised your right hand here today and you said that you would solemnly tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and now you're not answering questions," Heinrich said. “You're impeding this investigation.”
Heinrich went on to list three ways that he believed Sessions was avoiding answering questions. Heinrich said that Sessions either claimed information was classified, deferred answering by saying he would answer in a closed session, and lastly, by “invoking executive privilege.”
Sessions said he was simply observing the “president's constitutional right” by not giving out information without the president’s approval. Sessions said it was a “long-standing policy of the Department of Justice to make sure that the president has full opportunity to decide these issues.”
In direct disagreement, Heinrich stated that Sessions was “obstructing the congressional delegation” and that the Attorney General’s silence “speaks volumes.”
Sen. Angus King asked Sessions whether he was being selective in what he’s choosing to answer, given the president has not invoked executive privilege for their communications.
Sessions said he can not discuss certain communications with the president, including whether the Russia investigation came up during the decision to fire Comey.
“I’m protecting the right of the president to assert it if he chooses and there may be other privileges that could apply in this circumstance,” Sessions said.
King said Sessions is trying to “have it both ways” by not answering questions, because Trump has not asserted executive privilege.
“At this point, it’s premature for me to deny the president a full and intelligent choice about executive privilege,” Session said.
After telling Senator King that he believes the Russian did interfere with the US presidential elections, Sessions said he had never been briefed or sought information about the matter, saying that he had only received information in newspapers.
Appearing confused, King made it clear that he was referring to Sessions’ time before the inauguration, when Sessions was a Senator, and not an Attorney General who had recused himself.
“I'm not talking about the campaign,” King said. “I'm talking about what the Russians did. You received no briefing on the Russian active measures in connection with the 2016 election?,” King asked.
“No, I don't believe I ever did,” Sessions said.
Sen. Kamala Harris and Sessions got into a tense back-and-forth on whether Sessions had reviewed the longstanding Justice Department policy he has repeatedly cited as the reason he cannot answer questions regarding his conversations with Trump.
“Did you not ask your staff to show you the policy that would be the basis for you refusing to answer the majority questions?” Harris asked.
“The policy is based on the principle…” Sessions said, before being interrupted by Harris asking the question again.
Sessions appeared to become flustered and in exasperation said, "I'm not able to be rushed this fast. It makes me nervous."
At one point Sen. John McCain interrupted Harris, saying Sessions wasn’t being allowed to answer the question.
"Senators will allow the chair to control the hearing,” said Sen. Richard Burr, Republican chairman of the committee, to McCain before instructing Harris to let Sessions answer the question.
Ultimately, Sessions said he consulted with his staff about the policy, before Burr moved on to the next senator’s questions.
Immediately after her questioning, Harris tweeted, "It was a simple question. Can Sessions point to the policy, in writing, that allows him to not answer a whole host of our questions today."
Sessions maintained throughout the hearing that Comey was fired based on the recommendations from Rod Rosenstein, which focused on Comey's handling of the Hillary Clinton email case, and that firing Comey did not violate his recusal from the Russia investigation.
After a line of questioning from Sen. Jack Reed about how Sessions went from praising former FBI Director Comey in the fall of 2016 when he was investigating Hillary Clinton, to recommending that he be fired, Sessions said that in “retrospect” he realized that Comey’s public disclosure of investigations was a major mistake.
“It probably would have been better and would have been consistent with the rules of the Department of Justice to never have talked about the investigation to begin with,” Sessions said. “Once you get down that road, that's the kind of thing that you get into that went against classical prosecuting policies that I learned and was taught when I was United States attorney and assistant United States attorney.”