Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) had a testy exchange with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, claiming he was “obstructing” the investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia during his testimony in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday. Throughout the testimony, Sessions has been saying it would be “inappropriate” for him to discuss the content of private conversations with the president.
Heinrich, however, did not feel that was correct, and he let Sessions know it.
Below is a video and a transcript of the exchange.
HEINRICH: Attorney General Sessions, has the president ever expressed his frustration to you regarding your decision to recuse yourself?
SESSIONS: Sen. Heinrich, I'm not able to share with this committee —
HEINRICH: You're invoking executive privilege.
SESSIONS: I'm not able to invoke executive privilege. That's the president's prerogative.
HEINRICH: My understanding is that you took an oath, you raised your right hand here today and you said that you would solemnly tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and now you're not answering questions.
You're impeding this investigation, so my understanding of the legal standard is that you either answer the question — that's the best outcome.
You say, “This is classified, can't answer it here. I'll answer it in closed session.” That's bucket No. 2. Bucket No. 3 is to say, “I'm invoking executive privilege.” There is no appropriateness bucket. It is not a legal standard. Can you tell me why what are these longstanding DOJ rules that protect conversations made in the executive without invoking executive privilege?
SESSIONS: Senator, I'm protecting the president's constitutional right by not giving it away before he has a chance to review it.
HEINRICH: You can't have it both ways.
SESSIONS: And second, I am telling the truth in answering your question and saying it's a longstanding policy of the Department of Justice to make sure that the president has full opportunity to decide these issues.
HEINRICH: Can you share those policies with us? Are they written down at the Department of Justice?
SESSIONS: I believe they are.
HEINRICH: This is the appropriateness legal standard for not answering congressional inquiries.
SESSIONS: 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, one.
There are also other privileges that could be invoked. One of the things deals with the investigation of the special counsel as other —
HEINRICH: We're not asking questions about that investigation. If I wanted to ask questions about that investigation, I'd ask those of rod Rosenstein. I'm asking about your personal knowledge from this committee, which has a constitutional obligation to get to the bottom of this.
There are two investigations here. There is a special counsel investigation. There is also a congressional investigation, and you are obstructing that congressional delegation — investigation by not answering these questions, and I think your silence, like the silence of Director Coats, like the silence of Adm. Rogers, speaks volumes.
SESSIONS: I would say that I have consulted with senior career attorneys in the department.
HEINRICH: I suspect you have.
SESSIONS: And they believe this is consistent with my duties.