‘AL­WAYS TOLD THE TRUTH’

At­tor­ney gen­eral dis­played a hazy mem­ory about Trump cam­paign’s Rus­sia deal­ings

Star Tribune - - NATION & WORLD - By MATT ZAPO­TO­SKY and SARI HOR­WITZ Wash­ing­ton Post

WASH­ING­TON – At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions said Tues­day that he has “al­ways told the truth” in de­scrib­ing his knowl­edge of Trump 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, one of the Trump cam­paign’s for­eign pol­icy ad­vis­ers. Pa­padopou­los, in plead­ing guilty to ly­ing to FBI agents, has ad­mit­ted that 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.”

Also at Tues­day’s hear­ing, Ses­sions said the Jus­tice Depart­ment would need a “fac­tual ba­sis” to ap­point a sec­ond special coun­sel to in­ves­ti­gate a host of GOP con­cerns — and he re­jected the sug­ges­tion by Rep. Jim Jor­dan, R-Ohio, that such a ba­sis al­ready ex­isted.

Repub­li­cans have pressed Ses­sions to launch probes on a va­ri­ety of mat­ters — in­clud­ing al­leged wrong­do­ing by the Clin­ton Foun­da­tion and the sale of a ura­nium com­pany to Rus­sia — and on Mon­day, the Jus­tice Depart­ment sent a let­ter to House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee Chair­man Bob Good­latte, R-Va., say­ing that Ses­sions had di­rected se­nior fed­eral prose­cu­tors to ex­plore at least some of them. They were to re­port back to him and his top deputy on whether any ne­ces­si­tated the ap­point­ment of a sec­ond special coun­sel.

Jor­dan said he ap­pre­ci­ated Ses­sions was con­sid­er­ing ap­point­ing such a per­son, but asked, “What’s it gonna take to get a special coun­sel?” Near the end of a testy ex­change, Ses­sions said, “‘Looks like’ is not enough ba­sis to ap­point a special coun­sel.”

“The at­tor­ney gen­eral was clar­i­fy­ing the le­gal ba­sis for ap­point­ing special coun­sel — not pass­ing judg­ment on whether it ap­plied in any spe­cific in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” Jus­tice Depart­ment spokesman Ian Prior said.

Ses­sions him­self also said of his ear­lier remarks: “I did not mean to sug­gest that I was tak­ing a side one way or the other on that sub­ject.” He said it was “my re­spon­si­bil­ity to eval­u­ate it,” and he would ap­point a special coun­sel if the cir­cum­stances called for it and re­ject the idea if not.

Rep. John Cony­ers, D-Mich., sought to high­light that Trump had pub­licly pressed the Jus­tice Depart­ment to in­ves­ti­gate Clin­ton-re­lated mat­ters, not­ing, “What strikes me about these com­ments is the pres­i­dent’s view that the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem serves him, and not the pub­lic.”

Ses­sions, though, dis­puted that he had been in­ap­pro­pri­ately pushed to do any­thing.

“I have not been im­prop­erly in­flu­enced and would not be im­prop­erly in­flu­enced,” he said.

In his open­ing state­ment, Rep. Ha­keem Jef­fries, D-N.Y., pressed Ses­sions on his shift­ing mem­o­ries, not­ing that he had pre­vi­ously crit­i­cized Hil­lary 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.

As­so­ci­ated Press and New York Times photos

In more than five hours of tes­ti­mony, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions sought to ex­plain ap­par­ent con­tra­dic­tions in ear­lier ac­counts by cit­ing the chaotic na­ture of Trump’s up­start cam­paign. He de­nied he had been im­prop­erly in­flu­enced by Trump.

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