Jeff Sessions denies misleading Senate over Trump campaign Russia contacts
US attorney general recalls attending a meeting with George Papadopoulos
In a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, Mr Sessions said he now recalled a March 2016 meeting which was attended by George Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign strategist who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI last month. This is despite not informing the Senate about the meeting during his confirmation hearing in January.
He said that during the March 2016 meeting he told Mr Papadopoulos he was not authorised to represent the Trump team to the Russian government after Mr Papadopoulos suggested setting up a meeting between US president Donald Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin.
“I pushed back, I’ll just say it that way,” Mr Sessions said.
However, the attorney general said he did not recall another reported encounter with another Trump advisor, Carter Page, who said he told Mr Sessions of his plan to visit Russia.
Speaking to a packed committee room on Tuesday, Mr Sessions denied that he had lied during his confirmation hearing in January, noting that it was difficult to remember all meetings that took place during the “chaos” of the Trump campaign.
‘That is a lie’
“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,” he said. “But I will not accept, and reject, accusations that I have ever lied. That is a lie.”
Russia’s efforts to influence the US election and alleged links with the Trump campaign are under investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, with the US president’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and a long-time business associate due to stand trial next year.
In particular, the March 2016 meeting which was attended by Mr Papadopoulos, Mr Sessions and other Trump advisors has come into focus as the prosecutor examines possible collusion between members of the Trump campaign team and Russia.
Also under scrutiny during the hearing were reports that the Justice Department was looking into the possibility of appointing a Special Counsel to investigate a number of matters, including a 2010 deal which saw the Obama administration approve the sale of energy company Uranium One to Russia. Republicans and Mr Trump have suggested that the sale was agreed in exchange for donations to the Clinton Foundation.
The possibility of the attorney general sanctioning an investigation into the US president’s former campaign rival would be unprecedented, and would be a significant coup for Republicans and right-wing commentators who have been seeking to highlight Hillary Clinton’s role in the sale of Uranium One.
But Mr Sessions appeared to play down expectations that a Special Counsel could be appointed during Tuesday’s judiciary committee hearing, telling questioners that it seemed there was “not enough basis to appoint a special counsel.”
Under questioning by Democrats, Mr Session said that the Department of Justice, which he heads, “can never be used to retaliate politically against opponents,” adding: “that would be wrong.”
The Department of Justice conducts investigations “without political influence,” he said.