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All the Russia details Sessions couldn’t ‘recall’ at hearing

 

Jeff Sessions has a hard time remembering a lot of Russia-related information.

The attorney general testified before the House judiciary committee on Tuesday in light of revelations that he headed a March 2016 meeting, during which Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos said he had been in contact with Kremlin associates and wanted to set up a meeting between then-candidate Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Sessions testified under oath in January that he knew of nobody on the Trump campaign who had contacts with Russians.

Democrats grilled Sessions over that apparent lie but the attorney general demurred, repeatedly relying on a defense dominated by two words: "don't recall."

Trump Tower meeting with Papadopoulos

Papadopoulos, a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, made national headlines last month after he pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his Russia contacts.

The 30-year-old campaign staffer attended the Trump Tower meeting on March 31 last year and proposed setting up a meeting between Trump and Putin.

During his opening statement Tuesday, Sessions claimed he didn't actually remember heading the meeting at all until "I saw these news reports."

"I do now recall that the March 2016 meeting at the Trump hotel that Mr. Papadopoulos attended, but I have no clear recollection of the details of what he said that meeting," Sessions said.

An image of the March 31 Trump Tower meeting is displayed behind Sessions during his Tuesday hearing.

An image of the March 31 Trump Tower meeting is displayed behind Sessions during his Tuesday hearing.

(Carolyn Kaster/AP)

But, just minutes later, Sessions shifted gears again.

"I believe that I wanted to make clear to (Papadopoulos) that he was not authorized to represent the campaign with the Russian government or any other foreign government for that matter," he said. "But I did not recall this event."

Reactions to Papadopoulos' proposal

While Sessions claimed that news reports refreshed his memory of pushing back against Papadopoulos' controversial proposal, the attorney general insisted that he had no recollection of how other people present reacted. President Trump and a number of other campaign officials attended the meeting.

"Did anyone else at that meeting, including then-candidate Trump, react in any way to what Mr. Papadopoulos had presented?" New York Democrat Jerrold Nadler asked the 70-year-old attorney general.

"I don't recall," Sessions responded.

"Neither Donald Trump nor anyone else at the meeting expressed any interest in meeting the Russian president or any concerns about communications between the campaign and the Russians?" Nadler pushed.

"I don't recall it," Sessions repeated.

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George Papadopoulos has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.  

(-/AFP/Getty Images)

Post-Papadopoulos meeting

Rep. Nadler continued to push Sessions on whether Papadopoulos' unconventional Putin meeting proposal ever came up in conversation again.

"After the meeting did you take any further steps to prevent Trump campaign officials and advisors or employees from further outreach to the Russians after you stopped it or pushed back at that meeting?" Nadler asked.

"I'm not aware of it," Sessions said.

"You communicated with nobody in the campaign about the matter?"

"I don't recall it," Sessions said.

Capitol Hill Club dinner with Carter Page

Page, another controversial foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, testified behind closed doors earlier this month that he told Sessions about a trip he was planning to Russia during a dinner at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington, D.C.

The dinner was reportedly attended by several members of the Trump national security team. Sessions, however, could not recall.

Carter Page speaks with reporters following a day of questions from the House Intelligence Committee on Nov. 2.

Carter Page speaks with reporters following a day of questions from the House Intelligence Committee on Nov. 2.

(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

"While I do not challenge (Page's) 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," Sessions said.

When pushed on the topic, Sessions fired, "Am I supposed to stop him from taking the trip?"

Reactions to Sessions' testimony

After grilling him for more than an hour, Democrats excoriated Sessions' testimony as evasive.

"You can believe Jeff Sessions' testimony under oath before the U.S. Senate. Or you can believe Sessions' testimony under oath before the U.S. House," California Democrat Ted Lieu tweeted after the hearing. "But you cannot believe both because they contradict each other."

The House judiciary committee's ranking Democrat, John Conyers, Jr., zeroed in on Sessions' memory lapses and derided him for giving not giving a single "straight answer."

"He also offered no clarification whatsoever on his shifting Russia testimony, except say that he 'did not lie' and 'cannot recall' any key details," Conyers, Jr. said.

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