(WASHINGTON) — Attorney General Jeff Sessions denied suggestions Tuesday that he misled Congress in previous appearances before Senate committees in which he was asked about Trump campaign contacts with Russian officials.
Questions about Sessions’ prior answers to Congress came during his testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. Lawmakers asked about the latest developments in the investigations into Russian interference in last year’s U.S. presidential election — including a guilty plea by Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos to a charge of misleading investigators.
The questions focused on Papadopoulos’ attempts to coordinate a meeting between then-candidate Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin and Papadopoulos’ presence at a March 2016 gathering also attended by Sessions. The attorney general’s responses to questions about communication with Russia drew scrutiny from Democrats who believed that he may have known more than he previously disclosed.
Sessions said that he now recalled the 2016 meeting, after recent news reports on the matter, and that he “always told the truth” in his appearances on Capitol Hill. He added that he “wanted to make clear to [Papadopoulos] that he was not authorized to represent the campaign with the Russian government.”
“But I did not recall this event, which occurred 18 months before my testimony of a few weeks ago,” he said.
Here’s a look at five key moments from Sessions’ testimony Tuesday:
Sessions claims he has ‘always told the truth’ and now recalls Papadopoulos meeting
In his opening statement, the attorney general told the committee he has “always told the truth,” referring to his criticized appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee in October.
On the subject of meetings attended by Papadopoulos and campaign aide Carter Page, Sessions said he “had no recollection” of the meetings until he saw recent news reports. He previously told the Senate Judiciary Committee he was “not aware” of attempts by the campaign to communicate with Russia.
“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 said. “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.”
He continued that he “gladly would have reported it,” had he remembered it. Sessions said he “pushed back” against what he thought was an improper suggestion by Papadopoulos — that Trump meet with Putin.
Sessions says he has ‘no reason to doubt’ accusers of Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore
Though he said he believes he should not be involved in the race for his former U.S. Senate seat representing Alabama, Sessions said he has “no reason to doubt” the women accusing Republican candidate Roy Moore of sexual misconduct.
Moore is accused of pursuing relationships with teenage girls in the late 1970s and early 1980s, including attempting to engage in sexual activity with one girl as young as 14.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, asked Sessions whether he would push for a Justice Department investigation into the alleged actions should Moore win the election.
Sessions would not comment on the hypothetical situation but pledged of his department, “We will do our duty.”
Sessions says DOJ shouldn’t ‘retaliate politically against opponents’
After the committee’s ranking member, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., showed Sessions several of Trump’s tweets suggesting the Justice Department investigate former campaign rival Hillary Clinton, the attorney general was asked whether it was “common” for a country’s leader to “retaliate against his political opponents.”
“The Department of Justice can never be used to retaliate politically against opponents, and that would be wrong,” Sessions said. He added, after additional questioning, that the president should “take great care” not to influence a pending investigation.
Sessions admitted, however, he could not entirely control Trump’s seemingly off-the-cuff remarks.
“The president speaks his mind,” Sessions said.
Rep. Jordan asks about additional special counsel
After Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, ran through a timeline of the FBI’s investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server and the related actions of then–FBI Director James Comey and then–Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Sessions explained that the matter did not automatically warrant a special counsel, as Jordan suggested was necessary.
“It would take a factual basis that meets the standards of the appointment of a special counsel,” Sessions said, an answer that did not appear to quell Jordan’s concerns.
In a letter to the committee Monday, Sessions said he authorized Justice Department prosecutors to look into whether the sale of a uranium company during Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state warranted investigation by a special counsel. Republicans have raised alarm over donations to the Clinton Foundation made by people related to the deal.
Sessions cautioned Tuesday that the step outlined in his letter did not guarantee an independent investigator would be appointed.
“You can have your idea, but sometimes we have to study what the facts are and to evaluate whether it … meets the standard required for a special counsel,” he said.
After telling the Senate Judiciary Committee in October that the U.S. was not prepared to prevent interference in its elections, Sessions admitted he has “not followed through to see where we are on that.”
“I will personally take action to do so,” he said. “A lot of things have been happening. We are working on a lot of great agenda items. But this one is important, and I acknowledge that.”
“I should be able to give you better information today than I am,” Sessions conceded.
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb. asked Sessions last month about preparations for upcoming elections. Sessions said it would require a “specific review” but that no such efforts were underway at the time.
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