AT­TOR­NEY GEN­ERAL JEFF SES­SIONS has re­peat­edly said he was un­aware if any Trump cam­paign aides met with Rus­sians. Court papers say he was re­peat­edly told about con­tacts.

Lat­est dis­clo­sures a pain for AG but still fall short of proof that any­one di­rectly in­volved

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Joseph Tan­fani joseph.tan­fani@la­

WASHINGTON — For At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions, ques­tions about the Trump cam­paign and Rus­sia have be­come a headache that won’t go away.

Three times he has ap­peared be­fore his for­mer col­leagues in the Se­nate and an­swered ques­tions about what he knew about con­tacts with Rus­sians dur­ing the cam­paign.

Three times Ses­sions has stum­bled, is­su­ing de­nials that later proved to be in­com­plete or wrong.

On Tues­day, the na­tion’s high­est law­man will face an­other grilling on Capi­tol Hill, this time prompted by claims in court doc­u­ments and con­gres­sional tes­ti­mony that he was told of at least two aides’ meet­ings with Rus­sian of­fi­cials — de­spite his claim last month that he was un­aware of any such con­tacts.

“The facts ap­pear to con­tra­dict your sworn tes­ti­mony on sev­eral oc­ca­sions,” all 17 Democrats on the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee wrote to Ses­sions last week in ad­vance of his ap­pear­ance there.

The lat­est dis­clo­sures still fall short of ev­i­dence that any­one in the Trump cam­paign was di­rectly in­volved with Rus­sia’s at­tempts to in­flu­ence the elec­tion through com­puter hack­ing and so­cial me­dia — much less that Ses­sions knew about it.

But Ses­sions’ se­rial in­con­sis­ten­cies have given Democrats an open­ing to ham­mer his cred­i­bil­ity.

They also helped fuel con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the Rus­sian med­dling and the pos­si­ble in­volve­ment of the Trump cam­paign, the fo­cus of the crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion led by special counsel Robert Mueller.

It’s a po­ten­tial crime to lie to Congress, though pros­e­cu­tions for per­jury are ex­tremely rare. But the con­tro­versy al­ready has dam­aged trust in Ses­sions, who also en­dured an ex­tra­or­di­nary pub­lic flog­ging by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump over the sum­mer for re­cus­ing him­self from the Rus­sia probe.

The shift­ing ac­counts “will dog him through­out his ten­ure as at­tor­ney gen­eral,” said Lau­rie Leven­son, a for­mer fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor now a pro­fes­sor at Loy­ola Law School in Los An­ge­les. Ses­sions has been “neutered” by ques­tions about his pro­bity, she said.

“If the per­son on the high­est level sworn to up­hold the law is the one you can­not trust, that’s a big prob­lem for the en­tire Jus­tice Depart­ment,” she said.

Mean­while Mon­day, the Jus­tice Depart­ment said Ses­sions is leav­ing open the pos­si­bil­ity that a special counsel could be ap­pointed to look into Clinton Foun­da­tion deal­ings and an Obama-era uranium deal. Such a move likely would to lead to Demo­cratic com­plaints about an un­due po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence on the depart­ment’s de­ci­sion-mak­ing.

In a let­ter to the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, the Jus­tice Depart­ment said Ses­sions had di­rected se­nior fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors to “eval­u­ate cer­tain is­sues” re­cently raised by Repub­li­can law­mak­ers.

A for­mer U.S. pros­e­cu­tor and four-term U.S. se­na­tor from Alabama, Ses­sions en­dorsed Trump in early 2016, boost­ing the novice can­di­date when most GOP lead­ers were shun­ning him. Ses­sions be­came head of the cam­paign’s for­eign pol­icy team, and he soon echoed Trump’s friend­lier poli­cies to­ward Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin.

That March, Trump named sev­eral for­eign pol­icy ad­vis­ers to work un­der Ses­sions, in­clud­ing en­ergy con­sul­tants Carter Page and Ge­orge Pa­padopou­los. Nei­ther was known in for­eign pol­icy cir­cles, and both soon met with Rus­sian in­ter­me­di­aries — and say they told Ses­sions about it.

Ac­cord­ing to court papers, Pa­padopou­los, who lived in Lon­don, met a pro­fes­sor there who said the Rus­sians had “dirt” on Hil­lary Clinton, in­clud­ing “thou­sands of emails.” This was sev­eral months be­fore the first hacked emails were re­leased to the pub­lic. He also met a woman who he thought was Putin’s niece.

In fol­low-up emails, Pa­padopou­los was urged to ar­range a meet­ing be­tween Trump or his top aides and se­nior Krem­lin of­fi­cials.

On March 31, 2016, Pa­padopoulous sat at a long con­fer­ence ta­ble in New York with Trump on one end and Ses­sions at the other. At one point, the 30-year-old aide bragged about his Rus­sian con­nec­tions and his ef­forts to set up a meet­ing with Putin.

“He was shut down pretty quickly by Se­na­tor Ses­sions, and no such meet­ing (with the Krem­lin) ever hap­pened,” said J.D. Gor­don, a for­mer Pen­tagon spokesman also at the meet­ing. Gor­don said Ses­sions said he would “pre­fer that no­body speak about this again.”

Pa­padopou­los has pleaded guilty to ly­ing to the FBI about his Rus­sian con­tacts.

Page also says he in­formed Ses­sions about his con­tacts in Rus­sia.

Page told the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee that in July 2016 he con­fided in Ses­sions, af­ter a din­ner at the Capi­tol Hill Club, about his plans to de­liver a speech in Moscow. While there, Page also told the com­mit­tee, he had a “pri­vate dis­cus­sion” with one of Rus­sia’s deputy prime min­is­ters and met sev­eral Rus­sian law­mak­ers.

Page told the panel that he “just men­tioned it (to Ses­sions) in pass­ing,” ac­cord­ing to a tran­script. “He had no re­ac­tion what­so­ever.” In an email, Page said he wasn’t sur­prised that Ses­sions didn’t re­call the en­counter and said the trip was “to­tally un­re­lated” to the cam­paign.


At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions will be asked Tues­day about two aides re­port­edly meet­ing with Rus­sian of­fi­cials.

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