- Attorney General Jeff Sessions testified before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.
- The former Alabama senator said he “never lied” when he said in previous hearings that he wasn’t aware of any contact between members of the Trump campaign and Russia.
- Sessions’ testimony were his first public remarks since court documents showed he was aware of a young adviser’s desire to set up a meeting between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions told the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that he “never lied” when he told lawmakers in previous hearings that he was not aware of any contact that occurred between members of President Donald Trump’s campaign team and Russia.
Sessions testified on Tuesday for the first time since newly unsealed court documents filed by special counsel Robert Mueller’s office showed that the former Alabama senator and Trump campaign surrogate was aware of a young campaign adviser’s desire to set up a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Sessions, who chaired the campaign’s national security advisory committee, told the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence committees in separate testimonies earlier this year that he was “not aware” of any communication that took place between any members of the campaign and Russia.
But he oversaw a committee meeting on March 31, 2016, during which the young adviser George Papadopoulos pitched a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin – one Papadopoulos could facilitate, he said, because of his contacts in the Russian government.
Sessions stood by his past statements on Tuesday, insisting that his story has “never changed,” and he has “always told the truth.”
“I had no recollection of this [March 31] meeting until I saw these news reports,” Sessions said. “I do now recall the March 2016 meeting that Mr. Papadopoulos attended, but I have no clear recollection of the details of what he said during that meeting.”
Still, Sessions said, while he does not recall the details of the episode, he is sure he rejected Papadopoulos’ proposal.
The campaign, he added, was “brilliant in many ways,” but was also “a form of chaos every day from day one.”
Sessions’ direct subordinate, JD Gordon, has also insisted that the then-senator quickly shot down Papadopoulos’ idea.
Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler grilled Sessions about what he did after Papadopoulos mentioned his Russian government contacts at the meeting.
“After March 31 meeting, did you take any steps to prevent further outreach to the Russians?” Nadler asked.
Sessions was evasive: “I pushed back at the meeting…I don’t believe I had any knowledge of any further contacts, and I was not in regular contact with Mr. Papadopoulos.”
Nadler then asked whether “anyone else at that meeting,” including Trump, reacted to Papadopoulos’ proposal.
“I don’t recall,” Sessions said. He added that he has never spoken to Mueller or anyone else at the FBI about Papadopoulos’ comments.
“I was asked to lead, inform and find some people who would join and meet with Mr. Trump and give him advice and support regarding foreign policy,” Sessions said later. “And I did so although we were not a very effective group.”
The White House has attempted to cast Papadopoulos as unimportant because of his status as a “volunteer.” But a former Trump campaign official said reporters should “feel free to push back against the ‘volunteer’ narrative.”
“Most people involved on the campaign were ‘volunteers’ because Trump didn’t want to pay anybody,” the official told Business Insider earlier this month.
Regardless of his title, Papadopoulos evidently was emboldened enough to email several top Trump advisers – including campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and national chairman Sam Clovis – multiple times after learning in April 2016, from an “overseas professor” with ties to the Kremlin, that Russia had dirt on Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.”
Sessions recused himself from the federal investigation into Russia’s election interference earlier this year amid revelations that he spoke with former Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak at least twice during the campaign.
Asked by Democratic Rep. Zoe Logfren whether he ever discussed his conversations with Kislyak with former national security adviser Michael Flynn, Sessions replied: “I don’t recall, and do not believe, that I communicated that information” to Flynn.
Sessions told Rep. Jackson Lee that he stands by his June 13 testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee: “I have never met with, or had any conversation with, any Russians or foreign officials concerning any type of interference in the campaign.”