Sessions shows unsteady recall on Russia
— 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 recollection,” 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.”
Papadopoulos was arrested by the FBI and pleaded guilty last month to lying to authorities about his own foreign contacts during the campaign.
During the Trump campaign, Sessions, then an Alabama senator, led a campaign foreign policy advisory council 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 hearing, including Tuesday’s, has focused on Sessions’ own recollections, and he recused himself in March from the Justice Department’s investigation into election meddling.
Questions for Sessions have only deepened since the guilty plea last month of Papadopoulos and recent statements to congressional investigators by another foreign policy adviser, Carter Page, who has said he alerted Sessions last year about a trip he planned to take to Russia during the campaign. Sessions insisted Tuesday that he did not recall that conversation with Page at all.
“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.”
A day earlier, 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 the committee’s top Democrat, Rep. John Conyers of Detroit.
“And I have not been improperly influenced and would not be improperly influenced,” he added.