Sen. Al Franken Responds To Attorney General Jeff Sessions' Testimony
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
We're continuing our coverage of Attorney General Jeff Sessions' testimony today in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee. In his opening statement, he tried to provide context for something he said in his confirmation hearing. Back in January, Sessions told Senator Al Franken, quote, "I did not have communications with the Russians."
We now know Sessions did meet with the Russian ambassador. The attorney general later recused himself from the investigation into Trump campaign contacts with Russia. Today, Sessions says his January testimony came in the context of a specific breaking news story that Franken had asked about.
That story alleged regular contacts between Trump campaign surrogates and the Russian government. Here's how Sessions explained that testimony today.
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JEFF SESSIONS: That was the context in which I was asked the question. And in that context, my answer was a fair and correct response to the charge as I understood it. I was responding to this allegation that we had met - surrogates had been meeting with the Russians on a regular basis. It simply did not occur to me to go further than the context of the question and to list any conversations that I may have had with Russians in routine situations as I had many routine meetings with other foreign officials.
SHAPIRO: Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, joins us now from Capitol Hill. Welcome to the program.
AL FRANKEN: I'm glad to be here.
SHAPIRO: How do you react to this testimony from Sessions today that he was only referring to the context of this breaking news story back in January?
FRANKEN: Well, actually, that doesn't make any sense. I asked him specifically that if these reports were true, what would he do as attorney general? And meaning would you recuse yourself if it turned out that members of the Trump campaign had met with Russians? And then he didn't answer my question. And he answered his own question by saying, well, I didn't meet with or communicate with the Russians during the campaign.
And he did, as it turned out. Some weeks later, The Washington Post said that he had met with Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, twice - once at the convention in Cleveland.
SHAPIRO: The RNC convention.
FRANKEN: Yeah. And what's odd about it is in the press conference after that, he said that if I had just slowed down a little bit, I would have, you know, I should have, in retrospect, said that I had met twice with the Russian ambassador. And then later, his story changed, which is that he didn't remember that - those meetings at all. So he's not being consistent.
And he's also not being really honest about what the question was that he was asked and that he just didn't answer the question I asked but rather chose to say that he hadn't met with Russians.
SHAPIRO: Beyond his explanation for that particular remark, were there things you learned from today's hearing that you think could be important to the investigation?
FRANKEN: Well, I haven't seen - I was doing other work. I'm not on the Intelligence Committee.
FRANKEN: I actually would like to have him come before the Judiciary Committee. We have oversight over the Justice Department. And I would like to have him testify before us.
SHAPIRO: Several Senate Democrats expressed that wish for him to come before the Senate Judiciary Committee. He would not commit to it. Is there anything more that you can do?
FRANKEN: Well, I would ask the chairman to ask him to do it and if he refuses to do it, to make him come before us.
SHAPIRO: Are you talking about a subpoena?
FRANKEN: Yes. I think the chairman can - I mean, he is the attorney general. And we are the Judiciary Committee. We have an oversight responsibility. That's what we do in the Senate. Jeff Sessions knows that. He's been on the committee. And we routinely have the attorney general appear before us. It's pretty standard. And so he, you know - but he should be compelled to do so if he refuses.
SHAPIRO: I know you were not in the hearing room today. But many Democrats seem very frustrated by his refusal to answer questions about conversations with the president. He said he was not invoking executive privilege, but he wanted to preserve that possibility. Do you think there's anything the Democrats can do to get Attorney General Sessions or other Trump administration officials to answer questions when they're not officially invoking executive privilege?
FRANKEN: I think that is odd. I've heard people invoke executive privilege before and use, you know, use that as a reason not to share conversations they've had with the president. To not invoke it and then refuse to answer questions seems a little odd to me. Do one or the other, you know?
SHAPIRO: Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, thank you for joining us.
FRANKEN: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.