Sessions to Congress: No ‘clear recollection’ of Russia meetings

Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI

Nov. 14 (UPI) — U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions told a House panel Tuesday that he has “always told the truth” about contacts with Russians and he has no “clear recollection” of meetings by aides about Russia.

The United States’ top law enforcement officer appeared before the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday morning, as part of the chamber’s Russia investigation, and was grilled by lawmakers for two hours.

The House is trying to determine if the Kremlin interfered with the 2016 presidential election — and whether any members of President Donald Trump‘s campaign worked with Russian agents in such an endeavor.

“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 told the committee. “But I will not accept — and reject — accusations that I have ever lied under oath. That is a lie.”

Sessions told the committee members that he recalls a March 2016 meeting with Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos and Carter Page after reading news reports. Papadopoulos has pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents as part of special counselor Robert Mueller‘s investigation for the Department of Justice.

Both men have said they discussed Russian contacts with Sessions. Tuesday, Sessions said he only recalled telling Papadopoulo that he wasn’t authorized to represent the Trump campaign.

“I do, now, recall the March 2016 meeting at 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.

“But I did not recall this event, which occurred 18 months before my testimony of a few weeks ago, 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.”

Sessions said he didn’t remember Page describing his plans to travel to Russia. Page has said his trip was unconnected to campaign work.

Sessions has faced numerous questions from committee members in the House and Senate about his role in the campaign. A separate investigation of Russian interference is ongoing in the Senate.

Sessions recused himself from all investigations related to Russia shortly after taking office earlier this year.

In his opening statement, U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., listed Sessions’s public statements on Russia-related matters, highlighting instances Sessions’ statements did not match others’ comments.

“I hope the attorney general can provide some clarification on this problem in his remarks today,” Conyers said.

Sessions came under fire last month after Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to misleading investigators about his involvement with Russia.

Sessions didn’t say he would recuse himself from any probe regarding Hillary Clinton, though he earlier has pledged to not become involved because of his role in the Trump campaign. In March, he said, “I have decided to recuse myself from any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for president of the United States.”

Tuesday, he said, “To announce recusal from any investigation would confirm the existence of that investigation, and top officials have advised me I should not do so.”

On Monday, it was reported that Sessions directed federal prosecutors to evaluate whether a special counsel should be appointed to investigate Republican concerns including alleged unlawful dealings by the Clinton Foundation and the sale of a uranium company, according to a Justice Department letter to Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte. FBI Director James Comey‘s handling of the Clinton email investigation was already being investigated by the Justice Department’s inspector general, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd told Goodlatte.

Trump has criticized the Justice Department for not launching investigations into Clinton’s conduct as secretary of state.

“A president cannot improperly influence an investigation,” Sessions said. “And I have not been improperly influenced and would not be improperly influenced.”

Sessions added, “The president speaks his mind. “He’s bold and direct about what he says. The people elected him. But we do our duty every day based on the laws and fact.”

Sessions told committee members “the Department of Justice can never be used to retaliate politically against opponents, and that would be wrong.”

Sessions said the DOJ would conduct investigations “without political influence and they will be done correctly and properly.”

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