Sessions defends himself to Congress, says he never lied
Attorney general under scrutiny over public statements on Trump-Russia contacts
WASHINGTON: A defiant Attorney General Jeff Sessions told Congress Tuesday he never lied under oath about Russian interference in the 2016 election and said sleep deprivation and the “chaos” of the Trump campaign clouded his recollections of campaign contacts with Russians.
Sessions sought to explain away apparent contradictions in his public statements by portraying President Donald Trump’s campaign as an exhausting operation and said he could not be expected to remember specific encounters from more than a year ago.
“In all of my testimony, I can only do my best to answer all of your questions as I understand them and to the best of my memory,” Sessions told the House Judiciary Committee. “But I will not accept, and reject, accusations that I have ever lied under oath. That is a lie.”
Sessions, then a senator from Alabama, led a foreign policy advisory council for the Trump campaign. He has been dogged since January by his evolving explanations about his own foreign contacts during the campaign and about how much he knew of communication between Trump associates and Russian government intermediaries.
Those questions have only deepened since the guilty plea last month of George Papadopoulos, a former Trump adviser who served on the council Sessions chaired and who proposed arranging a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
As well, another aide, Carter Page, told Congress in private statements that he had alerted Sessions about a meeting he planned in Russia during the campaign.
Sessions said he had no recollection of the conversation with Page. And he said that although he did not initially recall a March 2016 conversation with Papadopoulos, he now believes, after seeing media reports about it, that he told Papadopoulos he was not authorized to represent the Trump campaign with the Russian or any other foreign government.
Papadopoulos was arrested by the FBI and pleaded guilty to lying to authorities about his own foreign contacts during the campaign.
“I pushed back, I’ll just say it that way,” Sessions said under questioning, later adding that he was concerned that “he not go off somewhere pretending to represent the Trump campaign.”
Sessions insisted that his story had never changed and that he had never been dishonest.
But he also suggested to the committee that it was unfair to expect him to recall “who said what when” during the campaign.
“It was a brilliant campaign in many ways,” he said. “But it was a form of chaos every day from day one. We traveled all the time, sometimes to several places in one day. Sleep was in short supply. And I was still a full-time senator keeping a very full schedule during this time.”
The oversight hearing came one day after the Justice Department said Sessions had directed federal prosecutors to look into whether a special counsel might be merited to investigate allegations that the Clinton Foundation benefited from an Obama-era uranium transaction involving a Russia-backed company.
Sessions said Tuesday that any such review would be done without regard to political considerations.
The Justice Department also said it was reviewing the FBI’s handling last year of a probe into Clinton’s use of a personal server for official and in some cases classified emails, in breach of government rules, while she was secretary of state.
In an added element to the probe into Russian interference, Trump’s oldest son released Monday a series of private Twitter exchanges between himself and WikiLeaks during and after the 2016 election, including pleas from the website to publicize its leaks.
Trump Jr.’s release of the messages on Twitter came hours after The Atlantic first reported them Monday. In the exchanges – some of them around the time that the website was releasing the stolen emails from Clinton’s campaign chairman – WikiLeaks praises his father’s positive comments about WikiLeaks and asks Trump Jr. to release his father’s tax returns to the site.
The revelations are sure to increase calls in Congress to have Trump Jr. testify publicly as part of several committee probes into Russia’s interference in the election.
In an intelligence assessment released last January, the NSA, CIA and FBI concluded that Russian military intelligence provided hacked information from the DNC and “senior Democratic officials” to WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks has denied that Russia was the source of emails it released.
The private messages released by Trump Jr. show him responding to the WikiLeaks account three times, at one point agreeing to “ask around” about a political action committee WikiLeaks had mentioned.
He also asked the site about a rumor about an upcoming leak. The messages began in September 2016 and ran through July.
Trump Jr. downplayed the exchanges as he released them.
“Here is the entire chain of messages with @Wikileaks (with my whopping 3 responses) which one of the congressional committees has chosen to selectively leak,” he tweeted. “How ironic!”
Trump Jr.’s lawyers had released the exchanges to three congressional committees that have been investigating the Russian intervention. In a statement, Trump Jr.’s lawyer said thousands of documents had been turned over to the committees. –