Ses­sions de­nies ly­ing on Rus­sia

He tes­ti­fies he for­got about Trump aide’s men­tion of Putin

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WASH­ING­TON — At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions said Tues­day that he has “al­ways told the truth” in de­scrib­ing his knowl­edge of the pres­i­dent’s cam­paign con­tacts with Rus­sians, al­though he ac­knowl­edged that he now re­calls an in­ter­ac­tion with a lower-level ad­viser to Don­ald Trump who said he told Ses­sions about con­tacts who could help ar­range a meet­ing be­tween Trump and Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin.

When asked pre­vi­ously about whether he thought that sur­ro­gates from the Trump cam­paign had com­mu­ni­ca­tions with the Rus­sians, Ses­sions said, “I did not, and I’m not aware of any­one else that did, and I don’t be­lieve it hap­pened.”

Now, speak­ing be­fore the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, Ses­sions said he re­called a March 2016 meet­ing with Ge­orge Pa­padopou­los, who served on a cam­paign for­eign pol­icy ad­vi­sory coun­cil that Ses­sions, then an Alabama sen­a­tor, led. Pa­padopou­los, in plead­ing guilty to ly­ing to FBI agents, said he told Trump and other cam­paign of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing Ses­sions, that he had con­tacts who could help ar­range a meet­ing be­tween Trump and Putin.

“I do now re­call the March 2016 meet­ing at 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 read­ing his ac­count, and to the best of my rec­ol­lec­tion, 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.

“But I did not re­call this event, which oc­curred 18 months be­fore my tes­ti­mony of a few weeks ago, and I would gladly have re­ported it had I re­mem­bered it be­cause I pushed back against his sug­ges­tion that I thought may have been im­proper.”

Ses­sions clar­i­fied later that he re­called Pa­padopou­los mak­ing “some com­ment” about a Trump-Putin meet­ing, and he “pushed back.”

“I re­mem­ber the push­back,” Ses­sions said. “I re­mem­ber that he sug­gested an abil­ity to ne­go­ti­ate with Rus­sians or oth­ers, and I thought he had no abil­ity, or it would not be ap­pro­pri­ate for him to do so.”

Democrats had vowed to press Ses­sions about his and other Trump cam­paign aides’ deal­ings with Rus­sians lead­ing up to the 2016 elec­tion, and through­out the hear­ing, they made good on that prom­ise.

In his open­ing state­ment, Rep. John Cony­ers, D-Mich., went through Ses­sions’ pub­lic state­ments on Rus­sia-re­lated mat­ters, high­light­ing in­stances in which what Ses­sions said did not com­port with other ev­i­dence.

“I hope the at­tor­ney gen­eral can pro­vide some clar­i­fi­ca­tion on this prob­lem in his remarks today,” Cony­ers said.

In re­cent weeks, un­sealed court doc­u­ments called into ques­tion the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s pre­vi­ous tes­ti­mony about his in­ter­ac­tions with Rus­sians and his knowl­edge of oth­ers’ in­ter­ac­tions, when he was an of­fi­cial with the Trump cam­paign.

Tes­ti­mony be­fore Congress has proved to be some­thing of a thorn in Ses­sions’ side. At his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing to be at­tor­ney gen­eral, Ses­sions said he “did not have com­mu­ni­ca­tions with the Rus­sians” dur­ing the cam­paign. When The Wash­ing­ton Post later re­vealed that he had twice spo­ken with Rus­sia’s am­bas­sador to the United States, he re­vised his ac­count, say­ing he had no meet­ings with Rus­sians “to dis­cuss is­sues of the cam­paign.”

The Post later re­ported that Rus­sia’s U.S. am­bas­sador told his su­pe­ri­ors that he and Ses­sions dis­cussed cam­paign-re­lated mat­ters, in­clud­ing pol­icy is­sues im­por­tant to Moscow. And at an Oc­to­ber ap­pear­ance be­fore the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, Ses­sions seemed to shift his po­si­tion again.

That time, he said he con­ducted no “im­proper dis­cus­sions with Rus­sians at any time re­gard­ing a cam­paign or any other item fac­ing this coun­try,” al­though he ac­knowl­edged that it was pos­si­ble in one of his con­ver­sa­tions that “some com­ment was made about what Trump’s po­si­tions were.”

“I cer­tainly didn’t mean I hadn’t met a Rus­sian in my life,” Ses­sions said at one point dur­ing Tues­day’s hear­ing.

Rep. Ha­keem Jef­fries, D-N.Y., pressed Ses­sions on his shift­ing mem­o­ries, not­ing that he had pre­vi­ously crit­i­cized Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton for her lack of re­call dur­ing an FBI in­ter­view and said in­ten­tion­ally for­get­ting might be crim­i­nal.

“Do you still be­lieve that the in­ten­tional fail­ure to re­mem­ber can con­sti­tute a crim­i­nal act?” Jef­fries asked.

“If it’s an act to de­ceive, yes,” Ses­sions re­sponded.

SES­SIONS DE­NIES LY­ING

In ad­di­tion to the meet­ing with Pa­padopou­los, Trump cam­paign ad­viser Carter Page tes­ti­fied be­fore the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee re­cently that he told Ses­sions of his plans to travel to Moscow.

Page has said the in­ter­ac­tion was brief and for­get­table, and that his trip was un­con­nected to his cam­paign work.

Ses­sions in­sisted Tues­day that he did not re­call that con­ver­sa­tion with Page at all and ap­peared in­cred­u­lous at times that he could be ex­pected to re­mem­ber the de­tails of con­ver­sa­tions 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. That is a lie.”

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, I think, in many ways, but it was a form of chaos ev­ery day from day one,” Ses­sions said. “We trav­eled some­times to sev­eral places in one day. Sleep was in short sup­ply, and I was still a full-time sen­a­tor … with a very full sched­ule.”

The over­sight hear­ing di­vided along stark par­ti­san lines.

Repub­li­cans on the com­mit­tee, buoyed by the an­nounce­ment a day ear­lier that the Jus­tice Depart­ment might be open to a new special coun­sel to in­ves­ti­gate an Oba­maera busi­ness trans­ac­tion that Trump has railed against, re­peat­edly chal­lenged the un­der­pin­nings of special coun­sel Robert Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian med­dling in the 2016 elec­tion.

Democrats fo­cused their ques­tion­ing on Ses­sions’ evolv­ing ex­pla­na­tions about how much he knew of com­mu­ni­ca­tions dur­ing the cam­paign be­tween Trump as­so­ciates and Rus­sian gov­ern­ment in­ter­me­di­aries.

On Mon­day, 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 a ura­nium trans­ac­tion in­volv­ing a Rus­sia-backed com­pany dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

On Tues­day, Ses­sions said that any such re­view would be done with­out re­gard to po­lit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions. “A pres­i­dent can­not im­prop­erly in­flu­ence an in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” Ses­sions said in re­sponse to ques­tions from Cony­ers.

Ses­sions also re­vealed Tues­day that the Jus­tice Depart­ment has 27 open leak in­ves­ti­ga­tions, some that started be­fore Trump took of­fice, com­pared with nine such in­quiries in the lat­ter years of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion. He has vowed to crack down on dis­clo­sures of sen­si­tive gov­ern­ment in­for­ma­tion.

The hear­ing is the first time Ses­sions tes­ti­fied be­fore the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee.

AP/CAROLYN KASTER

“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,” At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions told the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee on Tues­day. “But I will not ac­cept, and re­ject, ac­cu­sa­tions that I have ever lied. That is a lie.”

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