DHS Secretary Nielsen: 'I did not and will not lie under oath'

Sec. claims she didn't hear Trump use obscenity

By TAL KOPAN AND AILEEN GRAEF, CNN
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen

(CNN) - Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen released a blistering statement Wednesday after being criticized over her recollection of the meeting last week where President Donald Trump reportedly called African nations "sh**hole" countries.

In her statement Wednesday, Nielsen said she is "thoroughly disappointed" that attention keeps being given to the meeting, when "we have serious and urgent border and immigration issues to address."

"I decline to spend any more of my time responding other than to say the obvious -- I did not and will not lie under oath and say I heard something I didn't," Nielsen said in the statement.

During an oversight hearing Tuesday, Nielsen testified that she did not hear that specific word come from the President during the meeting. The White House did not initially deny that Trump had made the remark, but in subsequent days conflicting accounts emerged from participants in the meeting, and Trump tweeted that he had not used that word, but did use "tough" language.

"I did not hear that word used, no sir," Nielsen testified at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, when asked if the President had used that word or similar language to disparage African countries in the meeting with lawmakers on immigration policy.

"The conversation was very impassioned. I don't dispute that the President was using tough language; others in the room were also using tough language," Nielsen said.

Democratic Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Dick Durbin of Illinois grilled Nielsen over her testimony.

"The commander in chief in an Oval Office meeting referring to people from African countries and Haitians with the most vile and vulgar language, that language festers. When ignorance and bigotry is allied with power it is a dangerous force in our country. Your silence and your amnesia is complicity," Booker said.

Nielsen also noted at one point that Sen. Lindsey Graham had used strong language -- prompting Durbin to speak on Graham's behalf. The South Carolina Republican had not yet arrived at the hearing.

"I will just say for the record, Senator Graham spoke up in a way that I respect very much, countering what the President had said about countries in Africa," Durbin said. "Reminding the President that his family did not come to America with great skills or wealth, but they came here as most families do. Looking for a chance to prove themselves and make this a better nation. And in a defense of Senator Graham, his strong words repeated exactly the words used by the President, which you cannot remember."

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