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The Latest: Trump pleased with Sessions testimony

Attorney General Jeff Sessions testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 13, 2017, before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing about his role in the firing of James Comey, his Russian contacts during the campaign and his decision to recuse from an investigation into possible ties between Moscow and associates of President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on probes into possible contacts between Trump campaign associates and Russia (all times local):

8:55 p.m.

It took about 24 hours, but the White House has knocked down speculation that President Donald Trump considered firing special prosecutor Robert Mueller.

The president’s personal friend, Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy said late Monday that Trump was considering terminating Mueller. The claim went undisputed until Tuesday night when White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that Trump “has no intention” of firing Mueller, even though she maintained that “the president has the right to.”

A person close to Trump’s legal team said earlier Tuesday that there have been no discussions about firing Mueller with the legal team. The person spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

Huckabee — on a trip with Trump, also told reporters aboard Air Force One that the president thought Attorney General Jeff Sessions “did a very good job” in testimony before Congress on Tuesday. She says Trump thought Sessions was especially “strong” on denying any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

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8:45 p.m.

The White House says President Donald Trump “has no intention” to fire the special counsel investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders tells reporters aboard Air Force One that “while the president has the right to” fire Robert Mueller, “he has no intention to do so.”

The president has railed against the Russia investigation as a “witch hunt.”

Per Department of Justice rules, it’s actually up to the deputy attorney general to make that call — though the president could bypass that protocol.

Some of Trump’s allies have begun questioning Mueller’s credibility as the investigation intensifies.

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6:00 p.m.

A week after being cut off by Republicans while questioning Trump administration officials, Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris of California was cut off again while questioning Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Harris was questioning Sessions at a Senate intelligence committee hearing Tuesday about his legal basis for refusing to answer some questions. As Sessions evaded specifics, Harris pressed, prompting Republican Sen. John McCain to interrupt Harris, as he had last week, and say the witness should be allowed to answer.

Last week, panel Chairman Richard Burr admonished Harris. This week, he asked her to simply let him answer.

She did, but wasn’t satisfied as Sessions continued to evade. As she asked for a yes or no answer, Burr cut her off for the last time.

Burr said Harris’ time had expired.

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4:30 p.m.

Members of the Senate intelligence committee are expressing confusion over why Attorney General Jeff Sessions will not disclose his conversations with the president.

Sessions won’t describe his conversations with President Donald Trump about the firing of FBI Director James Comey. Yet he says he does not have the power to invoke executive privilege, and the president has not asserted it.

Maine independent Sen. Angus King asked a number of questions about the basis for Sessions’ refusal to answer questions.

Sessions says the president was not asserting executive privilege and that Sessions was simply protecting Trump’s right to do so if he chooses.

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4:00 p.m.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has angrily denied that there were problems related to his decision to recuse himself from the FBI’s investigation into Russian activities during the election.

Former FBI Director James Comey testified earlier before the Senate intelligence committee said he knew of reasons why it would be problematic for Sessions to remain involved in the Russia investigation, even before he recused himself.

Sessions raised his voice to the Democratic senator pressing him for an answer, insisting there were no such reasons.

Sessions said to Sen. Ron Wyden: “There are none.”

Sessions bristled at Wyden, telling the Oregon senator that people are suggesting through innuendo that he has not been honest.

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3:55 p.m.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions says fired FBI Director James Comey should have shared his concerns about a meeting with President Donald Trump with another Justice Department official.

Comey testified last week that he did not tell Sessions that Trump had asked him to drop a probe into National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russia because he suspected Sessions would soon need to recuse himself from the Russia probe.

But Sessions says Comey should have relayed his concerns to Dana Boente, who was then acting as deputy attorney general and Comey’s direct supervisor. He says Comey should have talked to Boente, especially if he had concerns about Sessions staying involved in the Russia investigation.

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3:52 p.m.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions says fired FBI director James Comey’s decision to announce that Hillary Clinton would not be prosecuted over her emails was a “usurpation” of the Justice Department’s authority.

Sessions says he recommended Comey’s firing after a number of concerns about his job performance. But his very public handling of the Clinton email investigation was chief among them.

He says Comey’s decision to announce the results of the investigation without Justice Department approval was “a stunning development” because “the FBI is the investigative team. They don’t decide prosecution.”

He called Comey’s move “a thunderous thing” and it caused him to conclude “that a fresh start was appropriate.”

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3:36 p.m.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions says he never had conversations with FBI Director James Comey about his job performance before Comey’s firing.

Sessions recommended the firing last month, raising questions about whether he violated his recusal from the investigation into Trump campaign ties to Russia. But Sessions says he had concerns about Comey’s job performance even before he was confirmed. He says he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein discussed it and “we both agreed that a fresh start at the FBI was probably the best thing.”

Sessions says he was involved in Comey’s firing because he oversees the FBI. Sessions added that, “to suggest that a recusal from a single specific investigation” would render him unable to manage the leadership of the FBI would be “absurd.”

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3:20 p.m.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions says he recused himself from the investigation into Trump campaign ties to Russia because he was involved in the campaign.

Sessions says his recusal was not because he had done something wrong or was, himself, the subject of the investigation. He says he stepped aside because Justice Department rules prevent such a conflict of interest. Sessions became attorney general in February but did not recuse himself from that probe until March.

He says it “became clear to me over time that I qualified as a principal adviser to the campaign and it was appropriate and right for me to recuse myself.”

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3:10 p.m.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is contradicting fired FBI director James Comey’s testimony about his concerns over a meeting he had with Trump.

Comey testified last week that Sessions did not respond when he complained that he did not want to be left alone with President Donald Trump again. This was after a February meeting in which Comey said Trump told Sessions and others to leave the room before asking him to drop a probe into National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russia.

Sessions says he was not silent, saying he stressed to Comey the need to be careful about following appropriate policies.

He says he is confident that Comey understood and would abide by the Justice Departments rules on communications with the White House about ongoing investigations.

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3:05 p.m.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions says the suggestion that he colluded with Russians in the 2016 presidential election “is an appalling and detestable lie.”

Sessions’s comments came during his Senate testimony on whether he met privately with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at an April 2016 foreign policy event at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington. Sessions says he was there for a speech by then-candidate Donald Trump and members of Sessions’ staff also were there.

He says the suggestion he was “aware of any collusion with the Russian government to hurt this country which I have served for 35 years, or to undermine the integrity of our democratic process, is an appalling and detestable lie.”

Sessions adds that he has no knowledge of “any such conversations by anyone connected to the Trump campaign.”

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3:00 p.m.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions says he did not have third meeting with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

His impassioned response came after Senate Democrats raised questions about whether Sessions privately met with Sergey Kislyak at an April 2016 foreign policy event at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington. Sessions says he was there for a speech by then-candidate Donald Trump and members of Sessions’ staff were also in attendance.

But he says he does not recall any private meetings or conversations with Russian officials at that event.

Sessions in March stepped aside from the federal investigation into contacts between Russia and the presidential campaign after acknowledging that he had met twice last year with Kislyak.

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2:58 p.m.

Senate intelligence committee chairman Richard Burr says that so far, the panel has interviewed more than 35 individuals, including Jeh Johnson, the former secretary of homeland security, in connection with its investigation of Russian activities during last year’s campaign.

The North Carolina Republican senator gave the update Tuesday at the beginning of an open hearing to hear testimony from Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Burr says the committee staff met with Johnson on Monday.

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2:40 p.m.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he has confidence in the Department of Justice’s special counsel investigating Russian interference in U.S. elections.

McConnell told reporters Tuesday that “I have a lot of confidence in Bob Mueller.”

The comments came a day after a close friend of President Donald Trump was quoted in a television interview as saying the president was considering dismissing Mueller.

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11:35 a.m.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein says he will “defend the integrity” of the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. elections.

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein told Rosenstein that she believes it would be “catastrophic” if special counsel Robert Mueller were fired on the orders of President Donald Trump. She said such a move would “destroy any shred of trust in the president’s judgment that remains over here.”

Rosenstein said he appointed the special counsel, he thinks it was the right thing to do and “I am going to defend the integrity of that investigation.”

Feinstein also asked if Rosenstein had an estimate for how long the investigation will take.

“I regret that I do not,” Rosenstein said.

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11:35 a.m.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein says that a history of political giving is not a disqualifier for those who work for the Department of Justice’s special counsel investigating Russian interference in U.S. elections.

Under questioning from South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, Rosenstein said that having given political donations is not a disqualifier. Graham also asked him if it would be a disqualifier to have worked for Hillary Clinton, who ran against President Donald Trump in the election and was a subject of a separate Justice Department investigation into her email practices.

Rosenstein said “I think the answer is no” but said it would depend on the circumstances.

Federal Election Commission records indicate that some members of Mueller’s team have made political donations to Democrats, according to a CNN report.

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11:05 a.m.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein says he wouldn’t follow orders from President Donald Trump or anyone else to fire special counsel Robert Mueller unless they were “lawful and appropriate orders.”

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, asked Rosenstein at a budget hearing Tuesday what he would do if Trump ordered him to fire Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the U.S. elections and possible Russian ties to Trump’s campaign.

Rosenstein said that if he fired Mueller, he would be required to explain it in writing. He added that “if there were good cause, I would consider it. If there were not good cause it wouldn’t matter what anyone said.”

Rosenstein said Trump has not discussed the special counsel with him.

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11 a.m.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein says he consults with a career ethics official when questions arise about Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal from the Russia investigation.

Under questioning from Sen. Brian Schatz about the scope of Sessions’ recusal, Rosenstein said Sessions “actually does not know what we’re investigating, and I’m not going to be talking about it publicly.”

If questions arise about what matters Sessions should stay away from, he said, a career official in Rosenstein’s office is consulted.

Rosenstein says it would be inappropriate for him to discuss Sessions’ recusal and adds, “we don’t talk about the subject matter of investigations while they are ongoing.”

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10:40 a.m.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein says he has seen no evidence of good cause to fire the special prosecutor overseeing the Russia investigation.

The comment came in response to questions from Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. She asked about news reports suggesting that President Donald Trump was already thinking about “terminating” Robert Mueller from his position as special counsel. She asked whether he has seen “any evidence of good cause” to fire Mueller. Rosenstein responded: “No I have not.”

Rosenstein says the attorney general would be the only one who could fire Mueller. And since Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from the investigation, Rosenstein is acting in that capacity.

He says he is confident that Mueller will have “the full independence he needs” to investigate thoroughly.

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10:25 a.m.

House Speaker Paul Ryan says the White House and President Donald Trump should let the special counsel’s investigation continue, and await vindication.

Ryan told reporters Tuesday: “The best advice would be to let Robert Mueller do his job.”

The Wisconsin Republican commented in response to a Trump friend, Chris Ruddy, the CEO of Newsmax, who suggested Monday night that the president was already thinking about “terminating” Mueller from his position as special counsel. Such a move would create a firestorm coming weeks after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey.

Ryan said the smartest thing for the president to do would be to let the investigation continue and be vindicated.

Said Ryan: “I know Bob Mueller. I have confidence in Bob Mueller.”

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