Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday rejected accusations that he had lied in previous congressional testimony about his knowledge of contacts between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, insisting to House lawmakers that his answers on the matter “have not changed.”
In a tense five-hour hearing, Democrats questioned Sessions over muddled explanations about contacts with the Kremlin and asked him repeatedly about his prior congressional testimony. Sessions recused himself from Russia probes in March, after a Washington Post report undermined his January confirmation hearing statement that he “did not have communications with the Russians.”
“I will not accept and reject accusations that I have ever lied. That is a lie,” Sessions told the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. “My story has never changed, I’ve always told the truth, and I’ve answered every question to the best of my recollection, and I will continue to do so today.”
Sessions told the Senate Judiciary Committee in October that he did not communicate with the Russians, and he was “not aware of anyone else that did.” Democrats pointed to an event Tuesday that they said is “difficult to square” with that statement.
During a March 2016 meeting that Sessions attended, Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos said that he had Kremlin ties and could help set up a meeting between then-candidate Donald Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin. Papadopoulos pleaded guilty last month to lying to the FBI.
Sessions told House lawmakers that he “now recalls” that March 2016 meeting, but that he has “no clear recollection” of the details of Papadopoulos’ proposal during the meeting. He later added that he did not recall whether anyone else at the meeting, including Trump, reacted to the suggestion.
“I had no recollection of this meeting until I saw these news reports,” he said. “After reading that 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.”
In his testimony Tuesday, Sessions repeatedly answered using variations of the phrase “I don’t recall.”
He suggested in his opening statement that the chaotic nature of the campaign influenced his ability to answer detailed questions on events that occurred “a year ago,” such as “who I saw on what day, and what meeting, and who said what when.”
“It was a form of chaos every day from day one,” he said of the Trump campaign. “We traveled, sometimes to several places in one day. Sleep was in short supply, and I was still a full time senator with a very full schedule.”
New York Democrat Hakeem Jeffries on Tuesday noted that during Sessions’ hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee in June, the attorney general responded with some variation of “I don’t recall” 36 times.
In a heated exchange on Tuesday, Texas congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee asked Sessions about that June testimony. Sessions said he stood by it, and reading off of a sheet, repeated it for the record: “I have never met with or had any conversations with any Russians or any foreign officials concerning any type of interference with the campaign or election in the United States. Further I have no knowledge of any such conversations by anyone connected to the Trump campaign.”
Jackson Lee also asked Sessions, who previously served as Alabama senator, about allegations of sexual assault against Alabama’s GOP Senate candidate, Roy Moore.
“I have no reason to doubt these young women,” Sessions said.
Republicans on the panel have called for the appointment of a special counsel in order to investigate matters such as Obama-era officials’ handling of the Clinton email investigation and alleged unlawful dealings related to the Clinton Foundation.
The Justice Department said in a letter to the panel Monday that federal prosecutors are evaluating “certain issues” raised by Republicans and will make recommendations about “whether any matters not currently under investigation should be opened” and “whether any matters merit the appointment of a Special Counsel.”
Asked about what it would take to appoint a special counsel, Sessions said Tuesday that there must be “a factual basis that meets the standards of the appointment of a special counsel” and that “looks like” is not enough of a basis.
In a separate line of questioning from the panel’s chairman, Bob Goodlatte, Sessions said that the Justice Department has 27 open investigations into leaks, compared with nine over the past three years.
“It has reached epidemic proportions,” Sessions said of illegal classified leaks.Don’t
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