On Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions testified before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on the number and nature of Sessions' meetings with Russian government officials during the 2016 presidential campaign, as well as President Trump's management of the Department of Justice.
From my perspective, these were Sessions' five most important quotes.
1) "If any brief interaction occurred in passing with the Russian ambassador during that reception, I do not remember it."
Sessions was quick to rebut the notion of a third meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in 2016. If any third meeting did take place at the Mayflower Hotel, Sessions suggested, it was so quick and inconsequential he could not recall it. This was a rebuke to reporting that former FBI Director James Comey briefed senators on a third (previously undisclosed) meeting between Sessions and Kislyak.
2) Asked to confirm that he never colluded with Russia, Sessions stated, "I can say that absolutely, and I have no hesitation to do so."
It's a basic response but an important one. Speaking under oath, Sessions knows that any facts contravening his statements could instigate criminal proceedings. Yet by speaking in such clear way, Sessions is trying to get ahead of the story. He doesn't want to give any more oxygen to the Trump campaign-Russia collusion story. His bold comment here likely won a round of applause in the White House.
3) "I cannot and will not violate my duty to protect confidential communications with the president."
Sessions repeatedly refused to answer questions pertaining to his interactions with Trump. This was his major vulnerability at the hearing. It made the attorney general appear calculating. And as time went on and Sessions kept to this line, the senators became increasingly aggravated. The most important moment came when Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, took his turn at the microphone. He asked Sessions whether the Russia-collusion investigation ever came up in Sessions' discussions with Trump over Comey's firing. Sessions refused to answer.4) Asked by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., why Comey might have described Sessions' oversight of the Russia investigation as "problematic", Sessions erupted. "Why don't you tell me? There are none, Senator Wyden. There are none. This is a secret innuendo being leaked out there about me and I don't appreciate it and I've tried to give my best and truthful answers."
Appearing genuinely frustrated, Sessions implicitly supported Trump's claim that the Russian investigation is a distraction. And by answering Wyden in the same forceful way as Wyden asked the question, Sessions gave the senator no room to maneuver. While the findings of the various investigations may later repudiate Sessions, his response here was clear.
5) "The Soviet Union did in fact collapse."
Before Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., began her normal fundraising routine (interrupting Sessions before he could answer), she won an interesting remark. Sessions stated that he had held discussions with Russian officials towards improving U.S.-Russian relations. And making that case, Sessions referenced the end of the Cold War as if to suggest the Russian challenge has passed. In the context of Ukraine, Syria, and broader Russian foreign policy, this was an astonishing comment. Sadly, Harris didn't sense the opportunity to push Sessions here. It would have drawn out the attitudes that underpin Trump officials in their expectations towards future relations with Russia.
Anyway, the Trump-Russia train rumbles on. It may be a ghost train. It may not be. But one thing's for sure: it's important and no one knows where it's heading.