Attorney General Jeff Sessions reportedly told a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on June 13 in Washington D.C. that he could not recall or remember 26 times (video below).
Sessions denied that he participated in any type of collusion with the Russia government, but refused to answer numerous questions about President Donald Trump and former FBI Director James Comey, who was investigating whether or not the Trump campaign team colluded with the Russians.
Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, compared the credibility of Sessions to Comey on Democracy Now:
[T]o the extent we’re seeing a conflict in testimony here or a conflict in recollections, I’m going to go with the man [Comey] who took contemporaneous notes of everything, over the guy [Sessions] who said "I don’t remember" or "I don’t recall" 26 times in one hearing.
During the hearing, Sessions told Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon that he was being as forthright as possible:
Senator Wyden, I am not stonewalling. I am following the historic policies of the Department of Justice. You don’t walk into any hearing or committee meeting and reveal confidential communications with the President of the United States, who’s entitled to receive confidential communications in your best judgment about a host of issues, and have to be accused of stonewalling for not answering them. So I would push back on that.
Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island questioned that notion after Sessions' hearing, reports CNN: "As someone who served in the Department of Justice, I would love to know what he is talking about."
An unidentified Department of Justice official told CNN: "Declining to answer questions at a congressional hearing about confidential conversations with the President is long-standing executive-branch-wide practice. The basis for this historical practice is laid out in the 1982 memos from President Reagan and then-Assistant Attorney General Olson."
However, William Yeomans, a fellow at American University Law School and a 26-year veteran of the Justice Department, told CNN that's not the case:
There is no legally binding basis for refusing to answer questions unrelated to an ongoing investigation unless the President is invoking executive privilege. That privilege is not absolute -- it can be overcome by a sufficient interest. DOJ traditionally does not discuss ongoing investigations in public, but ultimately must answer questions unless executive privilege is properly invoked and upheld.
Trump did not invoke executive privilege regarding Sessions' testimony.
Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico told Sessions during the hearing: "You said you would solemnly swear to tell the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth.Now you're not answering questions. You are impeding this investigation."
Sessions insisted that his judgment prevented him from answering:
That's my judgment that it would be inappropriate for me to answer and reveal private conversations with the president when he has not had a full opportunity to review the questions and to make a decision on whether or not to approve such an answer.
Independent Sen. Angus King of Maine asked Sessions: "What is the legal basis for your refusal to answer these questions?" notes Democracy Now.
"I am protecting the right of the president to exert it if he chooses. And there may be other privileges that could apply in this circumstance," Sessions replied.
"Well, I don’t understand how you can have it both ways," King stated. "The president can’t not assert it. And you’ve testified that only the president can assert it, and yet I just don’t understand the legal basis for your refusal to answer."
Sessions insisted that he was protecting Trump's future possible decision to invoke executive privilege: "Well, it would it be premature for me to deny the president a full and intelligent choice about executive privilege."