Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday forcefully denied collusion with Russian officials ahead of the 2016 election and contended that he has maintained a safe distance from the probe into Moscow's interference.
In a closely-watched hearing that lasted more than two and a half hours, Sessions sidestepped repeated questions about his private talks with President Donald Trump, without offering a clear explanation about why he could not answer. The attorney general called any accusation of him colluding with Russia an "appalling and detestable lie" and was, at times, combative in his exchanges with senators.
"Let me state this clearly: I have never met with or had any conversations with any Russians or any foreign officials concerning any type of interference with any campaign or election," Sessions told the Senate Intelligence Committee. "Further, I have no knowledge of any such conversations by anyone connected to the Trump campaign."
Sessions' testimony comes at a tumultuous time for Trump, who faces accusations that he tried to influence the investigation into his campaign's ties to the Kremlin. Trump's abrupt ouster of Comey last month set into motion a sequence of events including the appointment of a special counsel, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, to oversee the probe.
In March, Sessions recused himself from that investigation following revelations that he was not forthcoming during his confirmation hearing about those two meetings with the Russian ambassador to the U.S.
The attorney general also said he did not remember a "third meeting" or conversation with Russian officials last year — beyond the two that he has acknowledged as part of his role as a then-senator. However, Sessions — a top Trump campaign advisor — did not rule out that a conversation could have happened.
Former FBI Director James Comey told senators in a closed session Thursday about a "possible third interaction" between Sessions and "Russian officials" last year, according to NBC News.
Comey raised more questions last week when he said the FBI was "aware of facts" about Sessions' ability to be involved in the investigation that he could not say in an open hearing. He cited this as a reason why he did not tell Sessions about a Trump statement he deemed a request to "drop" an investigation into former national security advisor Michael Flynn.
Sessions said he was not "briefed on any investigative details" between getting sworn in on Feb. 9 and recusing himself on March 2 and does not believe he was ever briefed on the Russian measures to influence the election.