Jeff Sessions answers questions on Russia contacts, Papadopoulos meeting

Photo: CNN

By: Emily Tillett | CBS News
November 14, 2017

Attorney General Jeff Sessions offered his latest round of testimony to lawmakers on Capitol Hill during which he fielded more questions about his and other Trump campaign associates' encounters with the Russian government over the course of the 2016 campaign.

"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," Sessions told lawmakers of his interactions with former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos.

His latest testimony provided new insight to the inner workings of the campaign and communications with Russian entities, a detail of particular interest for members of Congress in light of recent grand jury indictments of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Manafort's business associate Rick Gates, as well as Papadopoulos' guilty plea admitting he lied to FBI investigators.

In a heated moment for Sessions, the attorney general defended the Justice Department and his leadership, exclaiming he never lied under oath.

"I spent 15 years in that department, I love that department, I honor that department and will do my best to be your attorney general," Sessions said.

"As I said before, my story has never changed. I have always told the truth, and I have answered every question to the best of my recollection as I will continue to do today," he added.

Here are some of the key moments from Sessions' testimony before the House Judiciary Committee:


Sessions provides insight into Papadopoulos meeting
In his opening statement to the House, the attorney general acknowledged his past statements to lawmakers on Capitol Hill, saying his answers on Russian contacts has "never changed."

"I have always told the truth, and I have answered every question as I understood them and to the best of my recollection, as I will continue to do today," said Sessions.

Sessions said he at first had "no recollection" of his meetings on the campaign with Papadopoulos and another adviser, Carter Page, until he saw news reports, but he told lawmakers he does now recall a March 2016 meeting at the Trump Hotel that Papadopoulos had attended.

"I have no clear recollection of the details of what he said during that meeting. 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 would gladly have reported it," said Sessions.

After being shown a photo of the national security advisory meeting involving both Sessions and Papadopoulos, Sessions confirmed that he did indeed chair the March 31st meeting, during which he said he had "pushed back" against Papadopoulos' offer to propose a meeting between then-candidate Trump and Russian President Vladmir Putin.

He added that he didn't recall if Mr. Trump or any campaign officials had "expressed interest" in a meeting with Putin or other Russian officials following Papadopoulous' proposal.

Sessions provided similar statements as to his knowledge of Page's Russian contacts during the campaign, saying while he does not challenge Page's telling of contacts with Russians, he has "no memory of his presence" at various meetings.

"He told me 'I'm going to Russia,' and I made no response whatsoever," said Sessions of Page's intentions to go to Moscow.

In an apparent jab the overall handling of the Trump campaign at the time, Sessions considered it a "form of chaos every day from day one."

Sessions wouldn't commit to investigating Hillary Clinton but said he will "fulfill his duty" as AG
"The Department's Inspector General has an active review of allegations that FBI policies and procedures were not followed last year in a number of these matters you have raised. And we will make such decisions without regard to politics, ideology, or bias," said Sessions, alluding to a possible investigation to look into Clinton Foundation dealings and an Obama-era uranium deal.

Asked by Chairman Goodlatte about conducting a "fair" investigation into the mishandling of classified information by Hillary Clinton after former FBI Director James Comey said he would not pursue charges against her, Sessions said an investigation would "be done without political influence and be done correctly and properly."

But when asked if it was common for the leader of the country to order criminal justice system to retaliate against his political opponents, Sessions replied, "I would say the DOJ can never be used to retaliate politically against opponents and that would be wrong."

Sessions would not provide a clear answer to questions if an investigation into Clinton's dealings in the Uranium One deal were to proceed, if he would recuse himself or not.

"Under the policies under the Department of Justice, to announce recusal would reveal existence of that investigation, and top ethics officials have advised me I should not do so," said Sessions.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Illinois asked Sessions if he felt an obligation to fulfill Mr. Trump's campaign promise to "lock Hillary up," Sessions would only say that he would comply with any new special counsel investigations, and that he would "fulfill his duty" as attorney general.

"The president makes decisions, and if it's lawful, we defend it," Sessions added.

Sessions says he believes Roy Moore's accusers
"I have no reason to doubt these young women," Sessions said about the five women who have accused Alabama Republican senate candidate Roy Moore of sexual misconduct.

Sessions says that while the DOJ will evaluate every case of sexual misconduct allegations against Moore, "this case would normally be a state case," he concedes.

While Sessions did not outrightly condemn the allegations or say Moore should step aside from the race, he said that he had spoken with "ethics people" at the DOJ regarding the race for his old senate seat, noting that he was advised the "attorney general should not be involved in this campaign."

"I have friends in the campaign, I have steadfastly adhered to that," he added.

Asked further if cases against Moore would be referred for a federal review, Sessions replied, "We will do our duty."



 
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