Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued an angry denial that he committed perjury when he denied having any Russia contacts after House Democrat brought up his vote to impeach Bill Clinton in part over lying to investigators.
Hours into his appearance before the House Judiciary Committee, Sessions got asked about his vote to approve articles of impeachment against President Bill Clinton.
New York Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries grilled Sessions Tuesday about his meetings with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. and his conversations that Sessions now acknowledges happened with two Trump campaign officials, George Papadopoulos and Carter Page, who had Russia contacts.
‘Mr. Jeffries, nobody – nobody – not you or anyone else should be prosecuted – not me – or accused of perjury for answering the question the way I did in this hearing,’ Sessions said, referencing his earlier denials.
‘I do now recall the March 2016 meeting at Trump Hotel that Mr. Papadopoulos attended,’ said Sessions
‘I’ve always tried to answer the questions fairly and accurately. But to ask did you ever do something, you ever meet with Russians and deal with the campaign?’ Sessions said, starting a lengthy response after a series of interrogatory questions.
‘You’re saying Mr. Carter Page, who left that meeting according to the press reports and I guess his deposition or interview, has been reported as saying ‘I’m going to Russia.’ I made no response to it – didn’t acknowledge it. And you’re accusing me of lying about that? I say that’s not fair Mr. Jeffries,’ Sessions said.
‘I don’t think it’s right to accuse me of doing something wrong,’ said Sessions, after several Democrats pressed him on his changing account of Trump campaign officials who had Russia contacts
‘I would say that’s not fair colleagues,’ Sessions continued. ‘That’s not any indication that I in any way participated anything wrong. And the same with Mr. Papadopoulos, he talked about – it’s reported in the paper – that he said something about going to Russia and dealing with the Russians and I pushed back, I said you shouldn’t do it.’
‘So I don’t think it’s right to accuse me of doing something wrong. I had no participation in any wrongdoing with regard to influence in this campaign improperly,’ the attorney general said.
Sessions blew up after Jeffries asked about a 2016 encounter he had with Carter Page at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington, where it is reported Page referenced his upcoming trip to Moscow.
‘You’re accusing me of lying about that? I say that’s not fair,’ said Sessions
Sessions faced repeated questions from Democrats about his prior testimony, when he said he did not know of any Trump campaign Russia contacts
‘Yes. He said it was a brief meeting as he was walking out the door. I don’t recall that conversation but I’m not able to dispute it,’ Sessions said. ‘Does that establish some sort of improper contact with Russians? He’s not Russian either you know,’ Sessions said.
Sessions got immediate backup from Florida Rep. Ron DeSantis.
‘You didn’t do anything wrong in that testimony,’ said DeSantis. ‘This question was garbled. That’s just not giving you any benefit of the doubt at all to do what these guys are doing to you, so I hear what you’re saying and you didn’t do anything wrong there.’
Before the emotional defense, Jeffries had asked Sessions about an argument he had made during the Clinton impeachment, and a young police officer he had once prosecuted for making false statements and then changing his account.
Earlier in the oversight hearing, Sessions explained his faulty memory about meetings with former Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos by citing the ‘chaos’ of the Trump campaign he advised.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions testifies before a House Judiciary Committee hearing on November 14, 201
‘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 testified on Tuesday.
He says he ‘pushed back’ when Papadopoulos mentioned his Russia contacts at the meeting and indicated the Russians were available for a high level meeting between Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
‘I pushed back. I’ll just say it that way,’ Sessions said under questioning.
Asked whether Trump or anyone else at the meeting either expressed interest on concerns about the Russia channel, Sessions told New York Democratic Rep. Jerold Nadler: ‘I don’t recall.’
Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., right, shakes hands with Attorney General Jeff Sessions as he returns from a break during his testimony before a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill
Papadopoulos pled guilty in October to lying to the FBI about his contacts that led him to pitch a Trump meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin after meeting with a professor who had government contacts in Moscow.
Then he explained instances where he has failed to recall conversations about Trump campaign Russia contacts by citing the unique seat-of-the-pants nature of the Trump campaign.
‘All of you have been in campaigns, let me just suggest,’ he told House Judiciary Committee members.
‘But most of you have not participated in a presidential campaign. And none of you had a part in the Trump campaign. It was a brilliant campaign I think in many ways. But it was a form of chaos every day from day one. We traveled, sometimes to several places all the day. Sleep was in short supply,’ said Sessions.
‘After reading his account, and to the best of my recollection, I believe that I wanted to make clear to him that [Papadopoulos] was not authorized to represent the campaign with the Russian government, or any other foreign government, for that matter,’ said Sessions.
‘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,’ said Sessions.
He also spoke campaign unpaid Trump campaign advisor Carter Page, who traveled to Moscow during the campaign.
‘As for Mr. Page, while I do not challenge his recollection, I have no memory of his presence at a dinner at the Capitol Hill Club or any passing conversation he may have had with me as he left the dinner,’ Sessions said.
Page told the House intelligence committee earlier this month that he had informed some members of the Trump campaign about the trip, including Sessions.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions arrives to testify before a House Judiciary Committee hearing on November 14, 2017, in Washington, DC, on oversight of the US Justice Department
‘I have always told the truth, and I have answered every question as I understood them and to the best of my recollection,’ Sessions said, defending his conduct.
Sessions, whose agency routinely interrogates Americans about their recollections when conducting investigations, complained: ‘I have been asked to remember details from a year ago, such as who I saw on what day, in what meeting, and who said what to when.’
With his own prior testimony under fire – he previously denied recalling any campaign Russia contacts – Sessions included a vigorous defense of his own honor in his opening statement.
‘In all of my testimony, I can only do my best to answer your questions as I understand them and to the best of my memory. But I will not accept and reject accusations that I have ever lied under oath. That is a lie,’ he said.
‘Let me be clear: I have at all times conducted myself honorably and in a manner consistent with the high standards and responsibilities of the Office of Attorney General.’
Sessions said he ‘pushed back’ when George Papadopoulos spoke about about his Russia contacts at a meeting Sessions said did not recall until reading news reports
‘I have no memory of his presence at a dinner at the Capitol Hill Club or any passing conversation he may have had with me as he left the dinner,’ Sessions said of Carter Page
‘In all of my testimony, I can only do my best to answer your questions as I understand them and to the best of my memory. But I will not accept and reject accusations that I have ever lied under oath. That is a lie,’ Sessions said
Attorney General Jeff Sessions (C) arrives to testify before a House Judiciary Committee hearing on oversight of the Justice Department on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., November 14, 2017
Questioned by Democratic California Rep. Zoe Lofgren, Sessions didn’t give himself high marks for assembling a crack foreign policy team.
‘I was asked to lead, inform and find some people who would join and meet with Mr. Trump to give him advice and support regarding foreign policy and I did so, although we were not a very effective group, really,’ Sessions testified.
Sessions also got grilled about his pledge to recuse himself from Clinton investigations at a House Judiciary oversight hearing Tuesday – just hours after it was revealed prosecutors who report to him are evaluating on the possible appointment of a second special counsel who could probe Hillary Clinton.
Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd told the House panel that prosecutors will advise Sessions about whether ‘any matters not currently under investigation should be opened, whether any matters currently under investigation require further resources, or whether any merit the appointment of a special counsel.’
Among the issues being evaluated, and which House Republicans have asked them to examine, are any ties between the Clinton Foundation and Uranium One.
The Obama administration approved the sale of the Canadian-owned company with rights to U.S. uranium supplies to Rosatom, the Russian atomic energy agency.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions (left) said Monday that prosecutors were looking into whether a special counsel should be appointed to investigate Republican concerns including an investigation of the Clinton Foundation dealings
The deal got approved in 2010 by a committee that Clinton participated in as secretary of state.
Now, amid the prospect Sessions could approve a second special counsel to probe Clinton transactions, Sessions will face questions about statements he made about Clinton at his Senate confirmation hearing.
‘It was a highly contentions campaign. I, like a lot of people, made comments about the issues in that campaign. With regard to Sec. Clinton and some of the comments I made, I do believe that that could place my objectivity in question,’ Sessions said, under questioning by Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Charles Grassley of Iowa.
‘I’ve given that thought. I believe the proper thing to do would be for me to recuse myself from any questions involving those kind of investigations that involve secretary Clinton that were raised during the campaign or could be otherwise connected to it,’ Sessions added.
At the start of Tuesday’s hearing, panel chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia noted Sessions’ recusal pledge for 2016 campaign matters.
But Goodlattee complained: ‘There are significant concerns that the partisanship of the FBI and the department has weakened the ability of each to act objectively,’ and raised the issue of getting a second special counsel who would look into Clinton’s emails.
His Democratic counterpart, Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, brought up Sessions’ recusal in his own opening statement – and complained that his deputy’s letter got sent to the Republican staff but not Democrats.
‘Without so much as a copy to the ranking member by the way, the assistant attorney general seems to leave the door open to appointing a new special counsel to cater to the president’s political needs,’ Conyers said.
Conyers read some of President Donald Trump’s past online attacks on Sessions. He expressed hope he would get reassurances about ‘near daily attacks on its independence by President Trump and that no office of the department is being used to pressure the president’s political enemies.’
Sessions said Monday that prosecutors were looking into whether a special counsel should be appointed to investigate Republican concerns.
The revelation came after President Trump has ramped up his public calls for probes of his former rival, who he brands ‘crooked Hillary.’
‘Everybody is asking why the Justice Department (and FBI) isn’t looking into all of the dishonesty going on with Crooked Hillary & the Dems,’ Trump tweeted earlier this month.
Hillary is pictured here Monday evening onstage during the tour for her new book ‘What Happened’ at Fox Theater in Atlanta
The president also griped about his own apparent inability to steer investigations. ‘The saddest thing is that because I’m the President of the United States, I am not supposed to be involved with the Justice Department. I am not supposed to be involved with the FBI,’ Trump said.
The Justice Department is looking to investigate the Clinton Foundation dealings and also an Obama-era uranium deal.
In a letter to the House Judiciary Committee, which is holding an oversight hearing Tuesday, the Justice Department said Sessions had directed senior federal prosecutors to ‘evaluate certain issues’ recently raised by Republican lawmakers.
If prosecutors do appoint a special counsel, speculation could arise with regards to the independence of federal investigations under President Trump.
The list of matters he wants to look into vary but include the FBI’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.
Also matters connected to the purchase of the Canadian mining company Uranium One by Russia’s nuclear energy agency.
The letter from Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd did not say what specific steps might be taken by the Justice Department to address the lawmakers’ concerns, or whether any of the matters Republicans have seized might on already be under investigation.
Any appointment of a new special counsel, particularly in response to calls from members of Congress or from President Donald Trump, is likely to lead to Democratic complaints about an undue political influence on the department’s decision-making.
Trump in recent weeks has repeatedly weighed in on department affairs, publicly lamenting that he does not have more direct involvement with it and calling on law enforcement scrutiny of Democrat Hillary Clinton, his opponent in the 2016 presidential race, and other Democrats. He has been particularly interested in the Clinton Foundation.
‘Everybody is asking why the Justice Department (and FBI) isn’t looking into all of the dishonesty going on with Crooked Hillary & the Dems…’ Trump tweeted earlier this month.
Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (left) and husband, Former U.S. President Bill Clinton (right) at the Clinton Global Initiative in 2014 in New York
In apparent anticipation of those concerns, Boyd said in the letter that Justice Department ‘will never evaluate any matter except on the facts and the law.’
‘Professionalism, integrity and public confidence in the Department’s work is critical for us, and no priority is higher,’ Boyd said.
Sessions said at his January confirmation hearing that he would recuse himself from any investigations involving Democrat Hillary Clinton given his role as a vocal campaign surrogate to President Donald Trump. He similarly recused himself from a separate investigation into potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, and in May, the Justice Department appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to lead that probe.
House Republicans in recent weeks have launched their own probes into the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton’s emails.
The Justice Department said Sessions (pictured here) had directed senior federal prosecutors to ‘evaluate certain issues’ recently raised by Republican lawmakers
Some have specifically said they want to know more about whether Obama’s Department of Justice was investigating the purchase of American uranium mines by a Russian-backed company in 2010. The agreement was reached while Hillary Clinton led the State Department and some investors in the company had relationships with former President Bill Clinton and donated large sums to the Clinton Foundation.
The letter comes one day before Sessions is to appear before the Judiciary panel for a Justice Department oversight hearing. Democrats on the committee have already signaled that they intend to press Sessions on his knowledge of contacts between Russians and aides to the Trump campaign.
Trump tweeted: ‘Uranium deal to Russia, with Clinton help and Obama Administration knowledge, is the biggest story that Fake Media doesn’t want to follow!’