Jeff Sessions denies lying, tries to explain contradictionsWorld | Nov 15, 2017 12:40
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 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. 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.
"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 said. "But I will not accept, and reject, accusations that I have ever lied. That is a lie.”
Sessions insisted that his story had never changed and that he had never been dishonest. But he also suggested to the committee that it was unfair to expect him to recall "who said what when” during the campaign.
"It was a brilliant campaign, I think, in many ways, but it w