WASHINGTON ― Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ claim that he gave the Senate “correct” information about his contacts with Russians is “insulting,” Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said Tuesday, demanding that Sessions come explain himself in person.
Sessions, at his confirmation hearing in January, told Franken he had not spoken to any Russians during the election campaign. However, it was revealed last week that Sessions twice met Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., including once during the Republican National Convention.
But Sessions released a letter Monday denying that he’d misinformed Congress and the public, and insisting his statements were correct.
Sessions, formerly a Republican senator from Alabama, argued that he “did not mention communications [he] had had with the Russian ambassador over the years because the question did not ask about them.”
The answer did not sit well with Franken, who brought it up at a confirmation hearing Tuesday for two more of President Donald Trump’s Justice Department nominees.
Franken noted that, yes, he did not ask Sessions about his contacts with Russians. He asked Sessions what he would do if a news report that Trump surrogates were communicating with the Russian government during the election turned out to be true.
“I think Senator Sessions should come back. I believe he owes to this committee to come back and to explain himself,” Franken said. “He answered a question I didn’t ask. And for him to put this in his letter as a response is insulting.”
Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) tried to defend Sessions by arguing that Franken had ambushed Sessions by reading a fresh news account to him.
“You probably should have given him the chance to get the information you had and reflect on it and give an answer in writing,” Grassley said. “I consider what Senator Franken asked Sessions at that late moment, that that story had just come out, as a gotcha question.”
Grassley gaveled Franken to silence, but Franken later defended himself by reading the entire exchange, and noting that Sessions got himself, not Franken. (Watch the exchange below.)
“It can’t be a gotcha question if he didn’t answer the question,” Franken said. “So, the thing that got him was him saying he had not met with Russians.”
The nominee at hand was Rod Rosenstein, the Maryland U.S. attorney who has been tapped to be Sessions’ top deputy. Since Sessions has recused himself from any Russia-related investigation, Rosenstein would be the official who would have to make any decisions about potential prosecutions.
Asked what he would do if it turned out Trump surrogates were colluding with Russians to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, Rosenstein gave a very different answer from Sessions’.
“If there was predication to believe that such communication was in violation of federal law, I would ensure an appropriate investigation,” Rosenstein said.
Grassley opened the hearing by asking if Rosenstein had communicated with Russians. The prosecutor said he had not.