A leading Democrat in the U.S. Congress says Attorney General Jeff Sessions is refusing to say whether President Donald Trump ever asked him to hinder the Justice Department's investigation into Russian interference in last year's presidential election.
Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, said Sessions refused to answer the question during a closed-door committee interview on November 30.
Schiff said Sessions repeated statements he has made in public hearings, saying that he will not discuss his private conversations with Trump and contending that keeping presidential discussions secret is a long-standing tradition at the Justice Department.
Schiff called Sessions' answer "disturbing."
"Congress has a need to know, and so do the American people" whether Trump attempted to interfere in the Russia investigation, Schiff told reporters on Capitol Hill. "There is no privileged basis to decline to answer a question like that."
"If the president did not instruct him to take an action that would hinder the investigation, he should say so. If the president did instruct him to hinder the investigation in any way, in my view that would be a potential criminal act," Schiff said.
Sessions declined to comment to reporters as he left the hearing.
Sarah Isgur Flores, a spokeswoman for Sessions, said the attorney general told the committee that he had "never been directed to do anything illegal or improper."
Representative Mike Quigley, another Democratic committee member, told MSNBC that he believed Sessions is "being less than candid with the American public."
Sessions' appearance was part of the House panel's investigation into whether there were any links to Trump's campaign and Russian activities during the election. Sessions has previously testified on the matter in public hearings before three congressional committees.
Based on reporting by AP and Reuters