Sessions on Russia Contacts: ‘I Have Always Told the Truth’
Attorney general tells House Judiciary Committee that his answers have not changed over the past many months
Attorney General Jeff Sessions defended himself once again Tuesday against allegations that he has misled Congress about his knowledge of and participation in contacts between President Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russian government.
Sessions told the House Judiciary Committee that he wanted to address those “false charges” and insisted that his testimony before congressional committees this year has been consistent.
"My answers have not changed," he testified. "I've always told the truth. And I have answered every question as I have understood them to the best of my recollection, as I will continue to do today."
Sessions has been under fire for previous testimony, with some Democrats even suggesting he committed perjury when he said he was not aware of any conversations between Trump advisers and Russian officials about influencing the outcome of the 2016 election.
Critics have seized on an admission by Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos that he lied to the FBI about contacts he had with Russians. A photo emerged of a meeting of Trump's foreign policy advisers that included Trump, Sessions and Papadopoulos. According to news reports, Papadopoulos suggested a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"Frankly, I had no recollection of this meeting until I saw news reports," Sessions testified. "I do now recall the March 2016 meeting at the Trump hotel that Mr. Papadopoulos attended. But I have no clear recollection of the details of what he said at that meeting."
Sessions said after reviewing the news reports, however, he recalled shooting down Papadopoulos' suggestion.
"I believe that I wanted to make clear to him that he was not authorized to represent the campaign with the Russian government or any other foreign government, for that matter," he said.
Sessions added: "I would gladly have reported it had I remembered it, because I pushed back against his suggestion that I thought may have been improper."
The attorney general also said he did not remember a passing conversation with another Trump campaign aide, Carter Page, about Russia. Page testified to that fact before the House Intelligence Committee earlier this month.
Sessions described a great deal of travel and short sleep during the Trump campaign, in addition to juggling a full-time job as a U.S. senator.
"It was a brilliant campaign, I think, in many ways," he said. "But it was a form of chaos every day from day one."
More broadly, Sessions defended himself against accusations that he'd lied to Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) at his confirmation hearing when he said he did not have contacts with the Russian government.
"I certainly didn't mean I'd never met a Russian in the history of my life," he said.
Sessions suggested that in some 20 hours of congressional testimony prior to Monday, he had unfairly been asked to recall minor details of events that occurred 18 months earlier.
"I have been asked to remember details from a year ago, such as who I saw on what day in what meeting and who said what and when," he said.
The attorney general's answers did little to satisfy skeptical Democrats, who seem convinced that the Trump campaign conspired with Russia to fraudulently turn the 2016 election. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, pointed to previous testimony by Sessions that he did not have communications with Russians and that he was unaware of such communications by others on the campaign.
"We now know, of course, that neither of these statements are true," he said.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) asked Sessions if he took any additional steps to stop Papadopoulos after the March 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in New York.
"I don't believe I had any knowledge of any further contacts, and I was not in regular contact with Mr. Papadopoulos," he answered.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) compared the attorney general's past testimony to a police officer that Sessions prosecuted for perjury decades ago as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Alabama.
"Let me be clear: The attorney general of the United States should not be held to a different standard than the young police officer whose life you ruined by prosecuting him for perjury."
Sessions disputed the comparison.
"Mr. Jeffries, nobody — nobody — not you or anyone else should be prosecuted … or accused of perjury for answering the question the way I did in this hearing."
Sessions said he did not recall having any discussions with Michael Flynn — a key Trump adviser who would go on to have a short-lived stint as national security adviser — about the Republican Party platform. Sessions said he was not at the Republican National Convention when delegates drafted the document.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) said the platform underwent "dramatic changes" regarding Russia, although a review of the text indicates that the changes were not as big as Democrats maintain.
Sessions also testified that he had no knowledge of a plot by the Turkish government to pay Flynn $15 million to kidnap Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, who is living in Pennsylvania. The Wall Street Journal reported on those allegations last week.
Sessions said he had not had any discussions with special counsel Robert Mueller or his team, or the FBI or White House about the probe. He deflected several questions regarding that investigation, from which he has recused himself, referring inquiries to Mueller.
Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) said he was disappointed with those responses.
"It suggests that the rule of law is crumbling at our feet," he said.