Attorney General Jeff Sessions told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday that he intends to defend his record against falsehoods and has never learned anything or asked about the determination of U.S.intelligence services that Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election.
"I recused myself from any investigation into the campaign for president, but I did not recuse myself from defending my honor against scurrilous and false allegations," Sessions said in sworn testimony.
Sessions said any suggestion he was involved in collusion with the Russians is an "appalling and detestable lie" and hit back at allegations he deliberately misled lawmakers on his interactions with Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak. Reports have swirled that Sessions took part in a secret meeting with Kislyak at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington last year, which the former Alabama Senator denied.
"If any brief interaction occurred in passing...I do not remember it," he said.
Asked about the in the meeting later in the hearing, Sessions said, "I could say that I possibly had a meeting but I still do not recall it."
Wall Street has been impervious to the goings-on in Washington and on Tuesday ignored Sessions' testimony. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, S&P 500 and Russell 2000 closed at record highs.
Sessions has already acknowledged meeting on two occasions with the Russians during the Trump campaign -- he failed to disclose the interactions during his confirmation hearings but revealed them in March.
"Not one thing happened that was improper in any one of those meetings," he said.
He also confirmed former FBI Director James Comey's account that he had asked Sessions to make sure interactions between the FBI and the White House be above board. "Mr. Comey expressed concern about proper communications protocol with the White House and the president," he said.
Sessions said Comey did not give details on his conversation with Trump.
Of Comey's firing, Sessions said he saw and agreed with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's assessment of the scenario and that both had agreed it was necessary to get a "fresh start" at the FBI before they were confirmed. He declined to say whether he discussed with Trump the reasons for firing Comey, asserting he couldn't confirm or deny conversations with the president.
"I cannot and will not violate my duty to protect the confidential communications I have with the president," he said.
Sessions insisted he has completely steered clear of anything having to do with the Russia investigation. "I have no knowledge about this investigation as it is ongoing today beyond what has been publicly reported," he said.
He said he was never briefed on Russia's meddling in the U.S. election and does not recall the president ever expressing concern about the matter.
When asked by Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) if he knows whether the president records conversations, as he alleged on Twitter following Comey's firing, the attorney general replied, "I do not." If that is indeed the case, he acknowledged that those recordings should "probably" be preserved.
Sessions engaged in an especially heated exchange with Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), audibly raising his voice after the Oregon Democrat suggested he was "stonewalling" by refusing to answer questions about his conversations with the president. "I am not stonewalling," he said.
Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) also hit Sessions for dodging questions. "You are obstructing this Congressional investigation," he said. "Your silence speaks volumes."
Sessions said the president has not invoked executive privilege on their communications.
Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) pressed Sessions on turning over any written documentation pertaining to the committee's inquiry, whether he met with any Russians at the Republican National Convention and if he had reviewed Department of Justice policies for revealing conversations with the president prior to the hearing. "I'm not able to be rushed this fast," he said at one point during the back-and-forth. "It makes me nervous."
Comments from Trump ally Christopher Ruddy spurred buzz that the president might fire special counsel Robert Mueller. Rosenstein shot down the notion early in the day on Tuesday, and Sessions told the Senate committee he has "confidence" in Mueller.
Tuesday's open hearing is focused on Sessions' involvement with the Trump campaign and his meetings with Kislyak, which Sessions' failure to disclose resulted in his recusal from any matters related to the Russia investigation.
Sessions' testimony comes just five days after Comey appeared before the same committee to discuss his interactions with President Trump and the Russia investigation. He testified that Trump had asked for his loyalty and requested he scrap the investigation to ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. He said he kept memos of his interactions with the president because he was concerned "he might lie" about their meetings.
Comey's testimony fanned the flames around Sessions as well.
He said there are "facts I cannot discuss in an open setting" that made him believe Sessions had to recuse himself from the Russia probe and that Sessions and Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner knew he shouldn't have been left alone with the president.
"It can't happen that you get kicked out of the room and the president talks to me," he said he told Sessions after Trump privately asked him to drop the Flynn probe.
Sessions did not release any prepared testimony ahead of Tuesday's hearing, which kicked off at 2:30 p.m. ET.