If the average working lawyer stated that they made false statements under oath because of job pressure, they would be fired, but Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the highest ranking lawyer in the United States, seems to feel it’s okay as an excuse.
For those that believe what he’s saying, that should ring a very big alarm bell as who would want their lawyer to admit having a hazy memory when you need them in court? Having the top cop in the land admitting to being affected by job pressures is not a reassuring thing.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in a raised voice and animated tone, told Congress on Tuesday he never lied under oath about Russian interference in the 2016 election and suggested that sleep deprivation and the “chaos” of the Trump campaign clouded his recollections of campaign contacts with Russians.
In more than five hours of testimony, Sessions sought to explain away apparent contradictions in his public statements by portraying President Donald Trump’s campaign as an exhausting operation and said he could not be expected to remember specific encounters from more than a year ago. But he did say that recent media reports have triggered in him a memory, which he had not previously revealed, of a conversation with a campaign adviser last year about a proposed Russian government meeting.
“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 House Judiciary Committee. “But I will not accept, and reject, accusations that I have ever lied. That is a lie.”
The oversight hearing divided along stark partisan lines. Republicans questioned Sessions about the Justice Department’s openness to the idea of a special counsel to investigate Clinton Foundation dealings and an Obama-era uranium deal, while Democrats grilled him on the evolving explanations about his own foreign contacts about how much he knew of communication during the campaign between Trump associates and Russian government intermediaries.
Sessions, who recounted an exchange with one adviser but did not remember another conversation he was said to have had, led a foreign policy council during the Trump campaign and has struggled since January to move past questions about his knowledge of Russian outreach efforts during the election effort.
Those questions have only deepened since the guilty plea last month of George Papadopoulos, a former Trump adviser who served on the council Sessions chaired and who proposed in Sessions’ presence arranging a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. As well, another aide, Carter Page, told Congress in private statements that he had alerted Sessions about a meeting he planned in Russia during the campaign.
Sessions said he had no recollection of the conversation with Page. And he said that though he did not initially recall a March 2016 conversation with Papadopoulos, he now believes after seeing media reports about it that he told Papadopoulos that he was not authorized to represent the Trump campaign with the Russian government or any other foreign government.
Papadopoulos was arrested by the FBI and pleaded guilty to lying to authorities about his own foreign contacts during the campaign.
“After reading his account and to the best of my recollection,” Sessions said, “I believe that I wanted to make clear to him that he would not authorize 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.”
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 was a form of chaos every day from day one,” Sessions said. “We traveled some times to several places in one day. Sleep was in short supply, and I was still a full-time Senator … with a very full schedule.”
The oversight hearing came one day after the Justice Department said Sessions had directed federal prosecutors to look into whether a special counsel might be merited to investigate allegations that the Clinton Foundation benefited from an Obama-era uranium transaction involving a Russia-backed company.
On Tuesday, Sessions said that any such review would be done without regard to political considerations.
“A president cannot improperly influence an investigation,” Sessions said in response to questions from the committee’s top Democrat, Rep. John Conyers of Michigan.
“And I have not been improperly influenced and would not be improperly influenced,” he added. “The president speaks his mind. He’s bold and direct about what he says, but people elected him. But we do our duty every day based on the law and the facts.
Highlights From Jess Sessions Testimony:
- Sessions said he now recalls being present at a March 31, 2016, meeting that included former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos.
On Oct. 18, Sessions told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he had no knowledge of any contacts between Trump campaign advisers and Russians with ties to the Kremlin.
“I did not, and I’m not aware of anyone else that did,” Sessions told the Senate panel. “I don’t believe that happened.”
However, Sessions told the House panel Tuesday that he now recalls the meeting with Papadopoulos. He said he remembered it after seeing recent news reports about the event.
At the meeting, which Sessions chaired, Papadopoulos told Donald Trump’s national security advisers that he had connections that could help arrange a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to court documents. No such meeting ever took place, Trump campaign officials have said.
Papadopoulos pleaded guilty in October to making false statements and “material omissions” to the FBI about numerous communications he had with allies of the Russian government, according to a court document unsealed by special counsel Robert Mueller on Oct. 30. Mueller is investigating Russian interference in last year’s presidential election and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
- Sessions said he still doesn’t remember what Papadopoulos said, but recalls “pushing back” on Papadopoulos’ idea of setting up a meeting between Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The attorney general said that even though he now remembers the meeting with Papadopoulos, he doesn’t remember what Papadopoulos said that day.
Still, Sessions said he remembers that he “pushed back” on Papadopoulos’ offer to arrange a meeting between Trump and Kremlin-linked Russians.
Sessions testified that “I believe I made clear to him that he should not represent the campaign to Russians or anyone else.”
“I pushed back against his suggestion that I thought may have been improper,” he said.
- Sessions said he has never lied to — or intentionally misled — Congress about his knowledge of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.
Sessions said that when he denied at his January confirmation hearing that he had any contact with Russian officials, he understood the question from Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., to be whether he was having ongoing contact with Russians in his role as a Trump campaign surrogate.
Sessions, after news reports emerged that he had met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, later confirmed to the Senate Judiciary Committee that he had a meeting in his Senate office to discuss non-campaign issues with Kislyak last year. He said he also talked to Kislyak briefly at the 2016 Republican National Convention.
Sessions said he did not intentionally mislead the Senate panel last month when he said he wasn’t aware of any contact between Trump campaign advisers and Russian officials since he didn’t recall his conversations with Papadopoulos and Page at the time.
“I have at all times conducted myself honorably … I’ve always told the truth,” Sessions said Tuesday.
- The attorney general would not promise Republicans that he would appoint a new special counsel to investigate actions by the Obama administration.
Conservative Republicans on the committee pressed Sessions on whether he will appoint a second special counsel to investigate actions taken by former FBI director James Comey and former attorney general Loretta Lynch related to the closure of the email investigation that dogged Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. The FBI investigated Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of State but never charged her with any crime.
In a letter to Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., on Monday, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd said Sessions has directed senior federal prosecutors to evaluate Republican members’ requests for a special counsel.
“These senior prosecutors will report directly to the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General, as appropriate, and will make recommendations as to whether any matters not currently under investigation should be opened, whether any matters currently under investigation require further resources, or whether any matters merit the appointment of a Special Counsel,” Boyd wrote.
Sessions repeated the gist of that statement Tuesday and added that he could not confirm or deny that any investigations have been opened into Obama administration activities or actions by Clinton.
He said that any decisions about possible investigations would be made “without regard to politics, ideology, or bias.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions voiced no skepticism Tuesday of accounts by women accusing Roy Moore of groping or pursuing romantic relationships with them when they were teens, and hinted the Justice Department might look into allegations against the besieged Republican Alabama Senate candidate.
“I have no reason to doubt these young women,” Sessions told a House committee. His words seemed certain to carry heft in Alabama, where he was a long-time GOP senator until becoming President Donald Trump’s attorney general this year and remains one of that state’s most influential Republican voices.
Answering questions before the House Judiciary Committee, Sessions didn’t rule out a federal probe into the charges.
“We will evaluate every case as to whether or not it should be investigated,” Sessions said.
His remarks came as House Speaker Paul Ryan joined the growing chorus of Washington Republicans calling on Moore to drop out of the race. Republicans fear damage from two potential outcomes should he remain a candidate: Moore wins and GOP senators are tainted by association with a colleague accused of molesting teenagers, or he loses the Dec. 12 election to a Democrat.
“These allegations are credible,” Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters on Tuesday. “If he cares about the values and people he claims to care about then he should step aside.”
Senate Republicans face limited options in trying to force out the former state Supreme Court judge and outspoken Christian conservative, whose name remains on the ballot for the special election against Democrat Doug Jones.
One option they’ve considered is backing a write-in campaign with another Republican, perhaps Sessions or Sen. Luther Strange, who Moore defeated in a GOP primary in September. Strange told reporters Monday that a write-in candidacy “is highly unlikely.”
Moore is showing no sign of quitting, denying allegations by two women that he molested them and sending out fundraising emails emphasizing his stance as a maverick battling establishment politicians.
In one sent Tuesday, he referred to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and GOP Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina as “the forces of evil who are attempting to rip and tear apart me and my campaign with their filthy lies and disgusting attacks.”
At an abruptly called news conference Monday in Gallant, Alabama, after a woman surfaced with new allegations, Moore said, “I can tell you without hesitation this is absolutely false. I never did what she said I did. I don’t even know the woman.”
Moore spoke after a tearful Beverly Young Nelson, now 56, detailed new allegations to reporters in an emotional appearance in New York.
One night when she was 16, Moore offered to drive her home from her after-school job at a restaurant in Gadsden, Alabama, she said. Moore, a regular customer, instead parked behind the restaurant and locked the door to keep her inside, squeezing her neck while trying to push her head toward his crotch and trying to pull her shirt off, Nelson said.
“I thought that he was going to rape me,” she said.
Moore stopped and as she left the car he warned no one would believe her because he was a county prosecutor, Nelson said. She said her neck was “black and blue and purple” the next morning.
In Alabama, Jones unveiled a new campaign ad in which state voters, including Republicans, say they can’t vote for Moore.
Even before Nelson’s news conference, McConnell took a remarkably personal swipe at Moore, based on last week’s Washington Post reports of other incidents involving Moore and teenage girls decades ago.
“I believe the women,” said McConnell, marking an intensified effort by leaders to ditch Moore.
Moore fired back at McConnell on Twitter.
“The person who should step aside is @SenateMajLdr Mitch McConnell. He has failed conservatives and must be replaced. #DrainTheSwamp,” Moore wrote.
Cory Gardner of Colorado, who heads the Senate GOP’s campaign organization, said if Moore is elected, senators should expel him “because he does not meet the ethical and moral requirements” of the Senate.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Moore “should not be a United States senator, no matter what it takes.” Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who’s not seeking re-election after criticizing Trump, said he’d “vote for the Democrat” if he had to choose between Moore and Democrat Jones.
Last week, The Washington Post reported that in 1979 when he was 32, Moore had sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl and pursued romantic relationships with three other teenage girls around the same period. The women made their allegations on the record, and the Post cited two dozen other sources.
Moore denied last week molesting the 14-year-old but didn’t flatly deny he’d dated teenagers, saying in an interview with conservative talk show host Sean Hannity, “It would have been out of my customary behavior.”
Nelson said that before the alleged incident that Moore signed her yearbook. A copy of her statement at the news conference included a picture of what she said was his signature and a message saying, “To a sweeter more beautiful girl I could not say, ‘Merry Christmas.’”
The tumult comes with Republicans holding a scant 52-48 Senate majority as the GOP rushes to push a massive tax cut through Congress by Christmas.