AG says chaos of the cam­paign fogged his rec­ol­lec­tions

The Garden Island - - Morning Briefing - Eric Tucker 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 im­prop­erly in­flu­enced in his de­ci­sion-mak­ing 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 repre- sent 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. 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 elec­tion 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, served as a key sur­ro­gate for the Repub­li­can can­di­date and was asked to lead a for­eign pol­icy ad­vi­sory coun­cil on which Pa­padopou­los served.

Yet 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 ef­forts.

Af­ter say­ing at his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing that he had not com­mu­ni­cated dur­ing the cam­paign with any Rus­sians, he re­cused him­self weeks later from the Jus­tice De­part­ment’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into elec­tion med­dling af­ter ac­knowl­edg­ing two pre­vi­ously undis­closed en­coun­ters with the Rus­sian am­bas­sador to the United States.

Each con­gres­sional hear­ing since then, in­clud­ing Tues­day’s, has fo­cused on Ses­sions’ own rec­ol­lec­tions about the cam­paign.

Those ques­tions 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 and ap­peared in­cred­u­lous at times that he could be ex­pected to re­mem­ber the de­tails of con­ver­sa­tions from more than a year ago. Though he ac­knowl­edged the con­ver­sa­tion with Pa­padopou­los, he said they were not in reg­u­lar con­tact.


At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions, right, looks to a mon­i­tor dis­play­ing pre­vi­ous ques­tion­ing by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., from Ses­sions’ con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing on Jan. 10, dur­ing a House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee hear­ing on Capi­tol Hill Tues­day in Washington.


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