Ses­sions de­nies ly­ing, pleads hazy mem­ory

Elec­tion chaos led to Rus­sia con­tra­dic­tions, at­tor­ney gen­eral says.

Dayton Daily News - - FRONT PAGE - By Eric Tucker and Sadie Gurman

WASHINGTON — At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions on Tues­day dis­played a hazy mem­ory of the Trump cam­paign’s dis­cus­sions about and deal­ings with Rus­sians in the 2016 elec­tion, deny­ing he ever lied to Congress about those con­tacts but blam­ing the chaos of the race for fog­ging his rec­ol­lec­tions.

During more than five hours of tes­ti­mony to Congress, Ses­sions sought to ex­plain away ap­par­ent con­tra­dic­tions in his ear­lier ac­counts by cit­ing the ex­haust­ing na­ture of Don­ald Trump’s up­start but surg­ing bid for the White House. He also de­nied un­der re­peated ques­tion­ing from Democrats that he had been in­flu­enced by Trump.

But after say­ing un­der oath months ago that he was un­aware of any re­la­tion­ship be­tween the

cam­paign and Rus­sia, Ses­sions ac­knowl­edged for the first time that the ar­rest of a low-level cam­paign ad­viser re­minded him after all of a meet­ing at which the aide, Ge­orge Pa­padopou­los, pro­posed set­ting up a get-to­gether be­tween Trump and Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin.

“After read­ing his ac­count and to the best of my recol- lec­tion,” Ses­sions told the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, “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,” he added, “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.”

P apa do pou­los was ar­rested by the FBI and pleaded guilty last month to ly­ing to au­thor­i­ties about his own for­eign con­tacts during the cam­paign. That guilty plea came in a wide-rang­ing crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion led by for­mer FBI Di­rec­tor Robert Mueller, who as the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s spe­cial coun­sel is look­ing into whether the Trump cam­paign co­or­di­nated with Rus­sia to sway the out­come of the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec- tion and into whether the fir­ing of James Comey as FBI di­rec­tor was an ef­fort to ob­struct jus­tice.

During the Trump cam­paign, Ses­sions, then an Alabama se­na­tor, led a cam­paign for­eign pol­icy ad­vi­sory coun- cil on which Pa­padopolous served. The at­tor­ney gen­eral has strug­gled since Jan­uary to move past ques­tions about his own for­eign con­tacts and about his knowl­edge of Rus­sian out­reach ef­forts during the elec­tion ef­fort.

Each con­gres­sional hear- ing, in­clud­ing Tues­day’s, has fo­cused on Ses­sions’ own rec­ol­lec­tions, and he re­cused him­self in March from the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into elec­tion med­dling after ac­knowl­edg­ing two pre­vi­ously undis­closed en­coun­ters during the cam­paign with the Rus­sian am­bas­sador to the United States.

Ques­tions for Ses­sions have only deep­ened since the guilty plea last month of Pa­padopou­los and re­cent state­ments to con­gres­sio- nal in­ves­ti­ga­tors by an­other for­eign pol­icy ad­viser, Car- ter Page, who has said he alerted Ses­sions last year about a trip he planned to take to Rus­sia during the cam­paign. Ses­sions in­sisted Tues­daythat 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 ques- tions 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 wa­sun­fair 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 some times to sev­eral places in one day. Sleep was in short sup­ply and I was still a full­time se­na­tor ... with a very full sched­ule.”

The over­sight hear­ing di­vided along stark par­ti­san lines.

Repub­li­cans, buoyed by the an­nounce­ment a day ear­lier that the Jus­tice Depart­ment might be open to a new spe­cial coun­sel to in­ves­ti­gate an Obama-era busi­ness trans­ac­tion that Trump him­self has railed against, re­peat­edly chal­lenged the un­der­pin­nings of Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Democrats grilled him on the evolv­ing ex­pla­na­tions about how much he knew of com­mu­ni­ca­tion during the cam­paign be­tween Trump as­so­ciates and Rus­sian govern­ment in­ter­me­di­aries.

A day ear­lier, the Jus­tice Depart­ment said Ses­sions had di­rected fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors to look into whether a spe­cial coun­sel might be merit­edto 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 the com­mit­tee’s top Demo­crat, Rep. John Cony­ers of Michi­gan.

“And I have not been im­prop­erly in­flu­enced and would not be im­prop­erly in­flu­enced,” he added. “The pres­i­dent speaks his mind. He’s bold and di­rect about what he says, but peo­ple elected him. But we do our duty ev­ery day based on the law and the facts.”

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions speaks at a House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee hear­ing Tues­day.

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