WASHINGTON ― Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Tuesday that he had “no recollection” of a former Trump campaign adviser’s comments on Russia during a March 2016 Trump campaign meeting on national security ― until, that is, it emerged that George Papadopoulos had pled guilty to lying to FBI agents working with the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Sessions now says that, to the best of his recollection, he tried to make clear at the time that Papadopoulos could not represent the campaign to the Russian government.
Sessions testified Tuesday before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill. It’s the first time he’s appeared before a congressional hearing since special counsel Robert Mueller rolled out his first charges two weeks ago.
Democrats believe Sessions misled Congress with regard to what he knew about representatives of the Trump campaign being in contact with Russians. In March 2016, Sessions was photographed sitting near Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign adviser who was later flipped by Mueller’s team. Papadopoulos has admitted to lying to FBI agents about being offered “dirt” on Hillary Clinton by a professor with ties to the Russians.
Sessions had previously said he was “not aware” of anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign coordinating with Russia. On Tuesday, he said he had “no recollection” of the Russia talk until he saw news reports.
“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 during 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, for that matter. But I did not recall this event, which occurred 18 months before my testimony of a few weeks ago, and would gladly have reported it.”
Sessions said the Trump campaign was “brilliant” but also chaotic, and that he was getting little sleep at the time.
“All of you have been in a campaign. 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 in many ways. But it was a form of chaos every day from day one. We traveled all the time, sometimes to several places in one day. Sleep was in short supply,” Sessions said. “And I was still a full-time senator keeping a very full schedule during this time.”
Sessions said he could only do his best “to answer all of 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.”
“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. “As I said before, my story has never changed. I have always told the truth, and I have answered every question to the best of my recollection as I will continue to do today.”
Later Tuesday morning, under questioning, Sessions said he now recalled that Papadopoulos had made “some comment” about outreach to the Russians during the March 2016 meeting. Sessions said he shut down Papadopoulos when he proposed a meeting between Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“I pushed back, I’ll just say it that way,” Sessions testified. He said he did not recall whether Trump or anyone else in the meeting reacted to Papadopoulos’ suggestion.
This story has been updated with additional remarks from Sessions’ testimony.
Ryan Reilly is HuffPost’s senior justice reporter, covering criminal justice, federal law enforcement and legal affairs. Have a tip? Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Signal at 202-527-9261.