Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) launched the open hearing before his panel featuring Attorney General Jeff Sessions by saying it was the former senatorâ€™s chance to set the record straight on his dealings with Russia and the investigation into the Kremlinâ€™s alleged interference in the 2016 campaign to help then-candidate Donald Trump.
â€œThis venue is your opportunity to separate fact from fiction,â€ Burr told Sessions, who sat silently listening.
Burr said he hoped the attorney general â€” who was a top surrogate and adviser for Trump during the 2016 campaign â€” would clarify several questions, including: whether he had any meetings with Russian officials â€œor their proxiesâ€ on behalf of the campaign or as attorney general; what kind of involvement Sessions had on Trumpâ€™s foreign policy campaign team; and â€œwhat role, if any,â€ he played in the ouster of FBI Director James B. Comey.
â€œThis may be your opportunity to separate fact from fiction and to set the record straight on a number of allegations reported in the press,â€ Burr said.
Burr stressed that he does not like open hearings, but acknowledged that the â€œgravity of the committeeâ€™s current investigation and the need for the American people to be presented the factsâ€ necessitated holding hearings like todayâ€™s with Sessions in public. He noted that this is the 10th open hearing the normally cloistered Intelligence Committee has held this year, and the fifth open hearing it has held on Russia.
Burr also noted that the committee has spoken to â€œmore than 35 individuals to dateâ€ as part of its Russia probe. He noted that on Monday, former Department of Homeland Security secretary Jeh Johnson spoke with the committee; on Monday night, National Security Agency Director Michael S. Rogers spoke with the committee as well regarding its Russia probe.
Burr also encouraged members of the committee to refrain from taking political shots during the hearing, repeating that he and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.) have been able to work together well to date and that he hoped to continue that pattern.
â€œWe may disagree at times, but we remain a unified team,â€ Burr said.