Ses­sions de­nies ly­ing about Rus­sia

AG tells House panel ‘chaos’ of ’16 race be­hind his hazy re­call

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - NATION & WORLD - By Joseph Tan­fani and Cath­leen Decker Wash­ing­ton Bureau joseph.tan­fani@la­times.com

WASH­ING­TON — U.S. At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions re­peat­edly de­nied Tues­day that he de­lib­er­ately mis­led or lied to Congress about the Trump cam­paign’s mul­ti­ple con­tacts with Rus­sia, say­ing he for­got that two aides told him about their meet­ings with Rus­sian gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials dur­ing the 2016 pres­i­den­tial race.

In an of­ten-con­tentious House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee hear­ing, Ses­sions sparred for more than five hours with both Democrats, who faulted him for chang­ing his story each time he has tes­ti­fied un­der oath be­fore Congress, and some Repub­li­cans, who pushed him to ap­point a sec­ond spe­cial coun­sel to in­ves­ti­gate Hil­lary Clin­ton.

Ses­sions grew vis­i­bly an­gry at times, in­sist­ing again and again that he “al­ways told the truth” as he re­called it, even as he con­firmed for the first time that an aide of­fered to help ar­range a meet­ing be­tween Trump and Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin last March. Ses­sions said he “pushed back” against the of­fer.

“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,” he said.

“But I will not ac­cept, and re­ject ac­cu­sa­tions, that I have ever lied,” he added. “That is a lie.”

The hear­ing was the lat­est sign of how last year’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign has yet to re­cede. Harsh ques­tions about the Demo­cratic nom­i­nee’s al­leged mis­deeds col­lided with na­tional se­cu­rity con­cerns of whether Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s cur­rent or for­mer aides helped Rus­sia med­dle in a U.S. elec­tion — the fo­cus of a spe­cial coun­sel in­ves­ti­ga­tion led by for­mer FBI Di­rec­tor Robert Mueller.

Ses­sions held firm against Repub­li­cans who pressed him to swiftly ap­point an­other spe­cial coun­sel to fo­cus on Clin­ton. Se­nior pros­e­cu­tors at the Jus­tice Depart­ment were re­view­ing the record and it would “be done with­out po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence,” he said.

After Rep Jim Jor­dan, R-Ohio, laid out a list of al­le­ga­tions that he said in­di­cated wrong­do­ing, Ses­sions re­sponded sharply. “I would say ‘looks like’ is not enough ba­sis to ap­point a spe­cial coun­sel,” he said.

Rep. John Cony­ers of Michi­gan, the House com­mit­tee’s top Demo­crat, said the al­le­ga­tions against Clin­ton — which chiefly in­volve her use of a pri­vate email server as sec­re­tary of state, fundrais­ing for the Clin­ton Foun­da­tion and an Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion de­ci­sion in 2010 to ap­prove sales of ura­nium to a Rus­sian com­pany — have been “care­fully ex­am­ined and com­pletely de­bunked” and said the threat of jail­ing po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents after an elec­tion is some­thing that would hap­pen in “a ba­nana repub­lic.”

The of­ten testy back-and­forth on Rus­sia largely echoed Ses­sions’ three pre­vi­ous ap­pear­ances on Capi­tol Hill this year, cre­at­ing more heat than light as law­mak­ers con­fronted Ses­sions with his pre­vi­ous state­ments and other ev­i­dence that con­tra­dicted his claims, and the at­tor­ney gen­eral in­sist­ing he did “not re­call” dozens of times in re­sponse.

“I have been asked to re­mem­ber de­tails from a year ago, such as who I saw on what day, in what meet­ing, and who said what when,” he said.

He blamed his faulty me­mory on the po­lit­i­cal and or­ga­ni­za­tional mael­strom of Trump’s in­sur­gent pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. The fourterm sen­a­tor from Alabama joined Trump’s side early on and be­came his top for­eign pol­icy ad­viser.

“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.”

Ses­sions re­cused him­self from over­see­ing Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion last March be­cause of his role as Trump’s cam­paign ad­viser — and he said in Jan­uary that he shouldn’t su­per­vise a Clin­ton in­ves­ti­ga­tion for the same rea­son.

But, in the House hear­ing, he had to again re­vise his an­swers about his own meet­ings with Rus­sia’s then-am­bas­sador in Wash­ing­ton, as well as what he knew about other cam­paign aides’ meet­ings with Rus­sians in Lon­don and Moscow.

Dur­ing his Senate con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing in Jan­uary, Ses­sions de­nied that he had met any Rus­sians dur­ing the cam­paign. It later emerged that he had met three times with the Rus­sian am­bas­sador, in­clud­ing once in his Senate of­fice to dis­cuss Ukraine and other is­sues, he said Tues­day.

He said he stood by his ini­tial de­nial be­cause he thought he was be­ing asked about im­proper con­tacts, and that his meet­ings with the am­bas­sador were not im­proper.

Last month, Ses­sions told an­other Senate hear­ing that he was not aware of any cam­paign aides who might have met with Rus­sian of­fi­cials, re­peat­ing a claim he had pre­vi­ously made to Congress.

On Oct. 30, how­ever, court papers in the crim­i­nal case against Ge­orge Pa­padopou­los, a cam­paign for­eign pol­icy aide, said that he bragged about his Rus­sian con­nec­tions at a meet­ing last March 31 with Trump, Ses­sions and other aides at the Trump Ho­tel in Wash­ing­ton.

Ac­cord­ing to the court doc­u­ments, Pa­padopou­los of­fered to help set up a meet­ing be­tween Trump and Putin — and that Ses­sions quickly shut down the dis­cus­sion.

“I pushed back, I would say it that way,” Ses­sions said Tues­day, say­ing he only re­mem­bered the in­ci­dent after read­ing news re­ports about Pa­padopou­los.

ALEX WONG/GETTY

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions tes­ti­fies for hours Tues­day at a House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee hear­ing in Wash­ing­ton.

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