By Sarah N. Lynch and Lisa Lambert
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions refused on Wednesday to answer lawmakers’ questions about his discussions with President Donald Trump on Russia and denied lying to Congress about his own contacts with Russians during the 2016 election campaign.
In often testy exchanges with Senate Democrats, Sessions denied having misled them when he said during his Senate confirmation hearing earlier this year that he had not met with Russian officials during the presidential campaign.
“I conducted no improper discussions with Russians at any time regarding the campaign,” Sessions told a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing.
Sessions was forced to recuse himself from investigations into Russian interference in the election and possible collusion by Trump campaign aides after it was revealed in March that he met with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak at least twice in 2016.
The Washington Post reported in July that U.S. intelligence agencies picked up intercepts in which Kislyak told the Kremlin he had held substantive discussions with Sessions about Trump’s positions on U.S.-Russia relations.
Sessions said on Wednesday he could not recall the specific details of the conversation.
“I don’t think there was any discussions about the details of the campaign,” he said. “It could have been that in that meeting in my office or at the convention … some comments were made about what Trump’s positions were. I think that’s possible.”
Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy told Sessions that many members of the committee believe Sessions gave “false testimony” when he had previously denied meeting with Russians.
Sessions said he believed the context of that question related only to matters specific to the 2016 campaign interference, and told Leahy he had answered it truthfully.
“I believe my answer was correct,” Sessions said.
He also repeatedly said he was barred from discussing the content of confidential conversations with Trump.
Those refusals appeared likely to fuel congressional Democrats’ frustration with the Trump administration over what they say is its inadequate cooperation with investigations into the Trump campaign’s dealings with Russia.
Russia has denied interfering in the U.S. election and Trump has said there was no collusion.
Sessions also said on Wednesday that he has not been interviewed or received any interview requests by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the investigation into alleged Russian interference in the election.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Lisa Lambert; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Alistair Bell)
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