By Katie Bo Williams - 06-13-17 15:11 PM EDT
Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday afternoon emphatically denied any knowledge of or involvement in collusion with the Russian government to help swing the 2016 election.
In a fiery opening statement given to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sessions also denied rumors that he had a third, previously unreported private meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the campaign.
Press reports had suggested that the meeting might have occurred at a Russia-friendly foreign policy speech given by then-candidate Donald Trump at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington in 2016.
"I did not have any private meetings nor do I recall any conversations with any Russian officials at the Mayflower Hotel," Sessions said. "I do not have any recollection of meeting or talking to the Russian ambassador or any other Russian official. If any brief interaction occurred in passing with Russian ambassador, I do not remember."
His voice rising, Sessions fired back on any suggestion that he may have been involved in any coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign - currently the focus of the federal investigation into Russian interference in the election.
"I was your colleague in this body for 20 years, and the suggestion that I participated in any collusion, that I was aware of any collusion with the Russian government to hurt this country that I have served with honor for 35 years, to undermine the integrity of our democratic process, is an appalling and detestable lie."
Later in his testimony, Sessions said that it was "possible" the third meeting with Kislyak occurred, arguing that he would have "gladly reported it... if I remembered it, or if it actually occurred."
Fired FBI Director James Comey thrust Sessions back into the spotlight of the roiling Russia controversy with his incendiary appearance before the same Senate panel last week.
Comey said federal law enforcement officials had expected Sessions to recuse himself from the investigation into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, strongly suggesting he knew more than has been publicly revealed about Sessions's contacts with Moscow.
Sessions stepped back from the federal probe in March - two months before Comey's firing - after reports emerged that showed he had not informed Congress of two meetings with Kislyak.
Comey also reported that the attorney general was silent when he "implored" him to prevent one-on-one conversations with President Trump, reporting that he told Sessions that such interactions were "inappropriate and should never happen."
Sessions contradicted that account on Tuesday, echoing a previous Justice Department statement claiming that he had responded by saying that the FBI and Department of Justice "needed to be careful about following appropriate policies regarding contacts with the White House."
Sessions is also expected to be pressed on his role in Comey's dismissal, which Trump linked to the FBI's investigation of Russia.
In its initial explanation of Comey's firing, the White House said that Trump accepted a recommendation from Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
--This report was updated at 3:43 p.m.
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