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Sen. Ron Wyden tells Sessions his explanations don’t “pass the smell test”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions Testifies Before Senate Intelligence Committee Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

On Tuesday, during Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee, a top Democrat on the committee sparred with Sessions over his involvement in the firing of then-FBI Director James Comey.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) wanted to know what Comey was referring to last week when he testified during a public hearing that Sessions was going to recuse himself from the Russia investigation for a variety of reasons, which Comey didn’t elaborate on in public. Later, during a private Senate meeting, Comey said there was possibly a third, undisclosed, meeting between Sessions and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Sessions adamantly denied any “problematic” matters.

Wyden then asked how Sessions, who had recused himself from the Russia investigation, could weigh in on firing Comey if the firing was, indeed, over the Russia investigation, as Trump has said.

“It did not violate my recusal. It did not violate my recusal,” Sessions insisted. “That would be the answer to that. The letter that I signed represented my views that had been formulated for some time.”

Wyden wasn’t satisfied. “If I can finish, that answer in my view doesn't pass the smell test,” he said.

Watch the full exchange below:

Below is a rush transcript of their exchange:

WYDEN: The question is: Mr. Comey said that there were matters with respect to the recusal that were problematic, and he couldn't talk about them. What are they?

SESSIONS: Why don't you tell me? There are none, Sen. Wyden. There are none! I can tell you that for absolute certainty. You — this is a secret innuendo being leaked out there about me, and I don't appreciate it, and I tried to give my best and truthful answers to any committee I've appeared before, and it's really people sort of suggesting innuendo that I have been not honest about matters, and I've tried to be honest.

WYDEN: My time is short. You've made your point that you think Mr. Comey is engaging in innuendo. We're going to keep digging.

SESSIONS: Well, Sen. Wyden. He did not say that.

WYDEN: He said it was problematic, and I asked you what was problematic about it.

Okay. One more question. I asked the former FBI director whether your role in firing him violated your recusal given that President Trump said he fired Comey because of the Russian investigation. Director Comey said this was a reasonable question. So I want to ask you just point blank: Why did you sign the letter recommending the firing of Director Comey when it violated your recusal?

SESSIONS: It did not violate my recusal. It did not violate my recusal. That would be the answer to that. The letter that I signed represented my views that had been formulated for some time.

WYDEN: If I can finish, that answer in my view doesn't pass the smell test. The president tweeted repeatedly about his anger and investigations into his associates and Russia. The day before you wrote the letter, he tweeted that the collusion story was a total hoax and asked “when will this taxpayer funded charade end?” I don't think your answer passes the smell test.

SESSIONS: Sen. Wyden, I think I should be allowed to briefly respond at least and say the letter, the memorandum that senator — that Deputy Rosenstein wrote and my letter that accompanied it represented my views of the situation.