Senate Democrats have called on Jeff Sessions to clarify just how much he knew about attempts by the Russian government to influence the 2016 presidential election, following revelations that the attorney general was previously in a meeting with former Trump campaign aide-turned special counsel cooperator George Papadopoulos.
Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) demanded that Sessions clarify his past statements and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has asked the attorney general to once again appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee following the indictments this week of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his longtime associate Rick Gates as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
As part of the inquiry into potential collusion between the Donald Trump campaign and the Kremlin, Mueller’s office also announced the surprising news on Monday that his team had gained the cooperation of Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, who has been working with federal investigators following his own guilty plea that he lied to the FBI.
Also on Thursday, former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page told Congress in a six-hour, closed-door testimony that he told Sessions he was traveling to Russia during the presidential campaign, according to an account he gave to CNN. Page said the trips were “completely unrelated to my limited volunteer role with the campaign and as I’ve done dozens of times throughout my life.”
“Understandably, it was as irrelevant then as it is now,” Page told CNN.
Both Papadopoulos’ and Page’s statements appear to cast doubt on comments made by Sessions to the Senate multiple times since his confirmation hearing in early January, as well as remarks made by the president. Both said they were unaware of any coordination between Russian officials and members of the Trump campaign.
“Once again, developments in the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election have brought to light evidence that you failed to tell the truth about your interactions with Russian operatives during the campaign,” Franken wrote in a letter to Sessions on Thursday in which he asked the attorney general to clarify his accounts to the Senate. “I am deeply troubled that this newest revelation strongly suggests that the Senate ― and the American public ― cannot trust your word.”
Leahy echoed that concern, saying Papadopoulos’ account was “impossible to reconcile with the attorney general’s appearance before the [Senate] Judiciary Committee just two weeks ago.”
“He now needs to come back before the Committee, in person, under oath, to explain why he cannot seem to provide truthful, complete answers to these important and relevant questions,” Leahy said in a statement.
According to court documents released Monday, Papadopoulos said he was in a meeting with Trump and other advisers, including then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, when he said “he had connections that could help arrange a meeting between then-candidate Trump and President [Vladimir] Putin.” A post on Trump’s Instagram account shows the March 31, 2016, meeting taking place, with the candidate, Sessions and Papadopoulos all present.
The New York Times, citing an anonymous campaign aide who attended the meeting, said Trump “listened with interest” to Papadopoulos’ pitch and asked several questions. Other aides were wary of the idea before Sessions himself “spoke vehemently against the idea” and asked others not to discuss it, the Times reported earlier this week.
A source at the Department of Justice confirmed to HuffPost that Sessions spoke out against the idea.
The White House has moved to distance itself from Papadopoulos. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday that he held an “extremely limited” role in the campaign and described him as a “volunteer” that did nothing in an “official capacity.”
During his Jan. 10 confirmation hearing, Sessions said he was “not aware” of anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign coordinating with the Russian government when asked about such ties by Franken. Leahy asked Sessions later that month if the attorney general had “been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election.”
Sessions replied: “No.”
Ryan J. Reilly contributed to this report.