Ses­sions de­fends him­self to Congress, says he never lied

At­tor­ney gen­eral un­der scru­tiny over pub­lic state­ments on Trump-Rus­sia con­tacts

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - WORLD -

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. –

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