Ses­sions changes his ac­count of Rus­sia deal­ings

SAYS HE NOW RE­MEM­BERS MORE Hear­ing fo­cuses on Trump cam­paign ac­tions

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY MATT ZAPO­TO­SKY AND SARI HOR­WITZ

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions on Tues­day again re­vised his ac­count of what he knew about the Trump cam­paign’s deal­ings with Rus­sians, ac­knowl­edg­ing for the first time that he re­called a meet­ing where a for­eign pol­icy ad­viser men­tioned hav­ing con­tacts who could pos­si­bly bro­ker a meet­ing be­tween then-can­di­date Don­ald Trump and Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin.

Tes­ti­fy­ing be­fore the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, Ses­sions said he now re­mem­bered ad­viser Ge­orge Pa­padopou­los say­ing in March 2016 that he knew peo­ple who might be able to help ar­range a Trump-Putin meet­ing.

When Ses­sions was asked last month whether he thought sur­ro­gates from the Trump cam­paign had com­mu­ni­ca­tions with the Rus­sians, he said, “I did not, and I’m not aware of any­one else that did, and I don’t be­lieve it hap­pened.”

But at Tues­day’s hear­ing, Ses­sions said his mem­ory had been re­freshed.

“I do now re­call the March 2016 meet­ing at the Trump ho­tel that Mr. Pa­padopou­los at­tended, but I have no clear rec­ol­lec­tion of the de­tails of what he said at that meet­ing,” Ses­sions told law­mak­ers. “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 gov­ern-

ment, for that mat­ter.”

Ses­sions added later: “I re­mem­ber the push­back. 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.”

The hear­ing, which lasted more than five hours, marked the first time Ses­sions has per­son­ally ad­dressed ap­par­ent dis­crep­an­cies that have emerged in re­cent weeks be­tween what he has said pub­licly and what other Trump ad­vis­ers have claimed about their Rus­sia-re­lated deal­ings.

Pa­padopou­los pleaded guilty in early Oc­to­ber to ly­ing to the FBI, ad­mit­ting he told Trump, Ses­sions and other cam­paign of­fi­cials that he had con­tacts who could help ar­range a meet­ing be­tween Trump and Putin.

Sep­a­rately, for­mer Trump cam­paign for­eign pol­icy ad­viser Carter Page tes­ti­fied be­fore the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee re­cently that he had told Ses­sions of his plans to travel to Moscow.

Democrats ques­tioned Ses­sions about his deal­ings with both men, not­ing that their ac­counts were out of sync with what Ses­sions had said pre­vi­ously and that his ac­count of Rus­sia-re­lated mat­ters had shifted mul­ti­ple times.

“I hope the at­tor­ney gen­eral can pro­vide some clar­i­fi­ca­tion on this prob­lem in his remarks today,” said Rep. John Cony­ers Jr. (D-Mich.).

The hear­ing at times grew heated, as Ses­sions in­sisted that he had “al­ways told the truth” and bris­tled at the sug­ges­tion that he had ever mis­led leg­is­la­tors or the pub­lic. He said his mem­ory had been re­freshed by news ac­counts and as­serted that he still did not re­call his con­ver­sa­tion with Page — though he added that he was “not able to dis­pute it.”

Page has also said the in­ter­ac­tion was brief and for­get­table, as he was not trav­el­ing to Moscow for the cam­paign.

“Does that estab­lish some sort of im­proper con­tact with the Rus­sians?” Ses­sions rhetor­i­cally asked Rep. Ha­keem Jef­fries (D-N.Y.).

The hear­ing was Ses­sions’s first ap­pear­ance be­fore the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, and it came as the at­tor­ney gen­eral found him­self a key fig­ure in sev­eral ma­jor news events.

A day ear­lier, the Jus­tice Depart­ment sent a let­ter to com­mit­tee Chair­man Bob Good­latte (R-Va.), say­ing Ses­sions had di­rected se­nior fed­eral prose­cu­tors to ex­plore whether a sec­ond special coun­sel should be ap­pointed to look into a host of GOP con­cerns — pos­si­bly in­clud­ing al­leged wrong­do­ing by the Clin­ton Foun­da­tion and the con­tro­ver­sial sale of a ura­nium com­pany to Rus­sia.

Un­der crit­i­cal ques­tion­ing from Rep. Jim Jor­dan (R-Ohio), Ses­sions said he would need a “fac­tual ba­sis” to ap­point a special coun­sel and re­marked that Jor­dan’s as­ser­tions about how things ap­peared were “not enough ba­sis” to do so. But he later clar­i­fied that he “did not mean to sug­gest that I was tak­ing a side one way or the other on that sub­ject.”

The mere sug­ges­tion of ap­point­ing a special coun­sel to in­ves­ti­gate Clin­ton-re­lated mat­ters drew swift con­dem­na­tion from Demo­cratic law­mak­ers, though some com­men­ta­tors said Ses­sions seemed to be try­ing sim­ply to mol­lify con­ser­va­tives by float­ing the idea of a sec­ond special coun­sel with­out ac­tu­ally in­stalling one.

Cony­ers 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.

Ses­sions has said pre­vi­ously that he would re­cuse him­self from any Jus­tice Depart­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tions of Clin­ton’s email prac­tices or her fam­ily’s char­i­ta­ble foun­da­tion — mind­ful that his past pub­lic com­ments “could place my ob­jec­tiv­ity in ques­tion.”

Ses­sions was also pressed Tues­day to an­swer ques­tions about the con­duct of Alabama Repub­li­can Se­nate can­di­date Roy Moore, who is run­ning to fill the seat Ses­sions once held. Asked by Rep. Sheila Jack­son Lee (D-Tex.) if he be­lieves the women who have ac­cused Moore of sex­ual mis­con­duct, Ses­sions replied, “I have no rea­son to doubt these young women.”

On Mon­day, an Alabama woman ac­cused Moore of sex­u­ally as­sault­ing her in the late 1970s, she was 16 years old. That fol­lowed a re­port last week in The Wash­ing­ton Post de­tail­ing al­le­ga­tions that Moore ini­ti­ated a sex­ual en­counter with a 14-year-old girl when he was 32. Moore has de­nied the al­le­ga­tions.

Ses­sions also re­vealed Tues­day that the Jus­tice Depart­ment has 27 open leak in­ves­ti­ga­tions, in­clud­ing some that started be­fore Trump took of­fice, com­pared with nine such in­quiries in the lat­ter years of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. And he said he still needs to fol­low through on a re­quest from sen­a­tors for in­for­ma­tion on the steps he’s taken to pro­tect U.S. elec­tions from for­eign in­ter­fer­ence.

The main fo­cus of the hear­ing, though, was Rus­sia and the sev­eral oc­ca­sions on which Ses­sions’s ac­count of the topic has changed.

At his Jan­uary con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing to be at­tor­ney gen­eral, Ses­sions said he “did not have com­mu­ni­ca­tions with the Rus­sians” dur­ing the cam­paign. When The Post later re­vealed that he had twice spo­ken with Rus­sia’s am­bas­sador to the United States, he re­vised his ac­count, say­ing that he had no meet­ings with Rus­sians “to dis­cuss is­sues of the cam­paign.”

The Post re­ported in July that Rus­sia’s U.S. am­bas­sador told his su­pe­ri­ors that he and Ses­sions dis­cussed cam­paign-re­lated mat­ters, in­clud­ing pol­icy is­sues im­por­tant to Moscow. And at an Oc­to­ber ap­pear­ance be­fore the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, Ses­sions seemed to shift his po­si­tion again. That time, he said he had con­ducted no “im­proper dis­cus­sions with Rus­sians at any time re­gard­ing a cam­paign or any oth­when er item fac­ing this coun­try,” al­though he ac­knowl­edged that it was pos­si­ble in one of his con­ver­sa­tions that “some com­ment was made about what Trump’s po­si­tions were.”

Sev­eral Demo­cratic leg­is­la­tors high­lighted the evolv­ing state­ments, and at one point, an ex­as­per­ated Ses­sions ex­claimed, “I cer­tainly didn’t mean I hadn’t met a Rus­sian in my life.”

Jef­fries as­serted that Ses­sions had pre­vi­ously crit­i­cized 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,” Ses­sions re­sponded, “yes.”

BILL O’LEARY/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions, right, looks at a tweet from Pres­i­dent Trump on dis­play at a House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee hear­ing. He was ques­tioned about whether the Jus­tice Depart­ment might move to ap­point a special coun­sel to probe mat­ters re­lated to Hil­lary Clin­ton.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.