Why Democrats want Attorney General Jeff Sessions to clarify his comments on Russia
Spencer Platt/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Top Democrats are pushing Attorney General Jeff Sessions to explain his testimony to Congress about knowledge of Trump campaign contacts with Russian officials in light of new court documents unsealed in the special counsel’s investigation.
According to documents unsealed Monday, Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty to making a false statement to the FBI, frequently communicated with Russians about arranging a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, and even pitched a potential summit to Sessions and Trump at a meeting of the then-candidate’s foreign policy team on March 31, 2016.
“When Papadopoulos introduced himself to the group, he stated, in sum and substance, that he had connections that could help arrange a meeting between then-candidate Trump and President Putin,” the statement of the offense against Papadopoulos reads.
Democrats say the filings appear to contradict Sessions’ sworn testimony before Congress.
In the Senate Judiciary Committee’s January confirmation hearings for Sessions, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., asked the attorney general nominee what he would do “if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign.”
“Sen. Franken, I’m not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians,” Sessions replied.
In a written questionnaire to the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation, Sessions also told the panel he was not in contact with anyone associated with the Russian government — despite the fact that Sessions met twice with Sergey Kislyak, then the Russian ambassador to the U.S., during the campaign. (Sessions has said he took those meetings as part of his duties as a senator, not as a Trump campaign surrogate.)
Asked about his initial testimony at a hearing last month, Sessions again told Franken he did not communicate with Russians.
“Was that what you were saying — you don’t believe that surrogates from the Trump campaign had communications with the Russians? Is that what you’re saying?” Franken asked.
“I did not, and I’m not aware of anyone else that did, and I don’t believe it happened,” Sessions replied.
In an eight-page letter sent to Sessions Thursday, Franken called on the attorney general to explain why he didn’t mention the Papadopoulos exchange while testifying before the Senate.
“We must get to the bottom of what happened so that we can prevent it from happening again, and I am deeply troubled that this newest revelation strongly suggests that the Senate — and the American public — cannot trust your word,” Franken wrote.
Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., another member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called on Sessions to return to Capitol Hill.
“The description of the March 2016 meeting contained in unsealed court documents is impossible to reconcile with the attorney general’s appearance before the Judiciary Committee just two weeks ago,” Leahy said.
On Thursday, Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page told the House Intelligence Committee he informed Sessions in June 2016 about an upcoming trip he was taking to Russia to speak at a university, a disclosure likely to put Sessions’ testimony under even more scrutiny.
Page told ABC News he “mentioned in passing” to Sessions the June 2016 Russia trip he had planned, and “that I happened to be planning to give a speech at a university in Moscow.” The trip was “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.”
A source familiar with Sessions’ comments to Congress told ABC News the attorney general “has been entirely truthful and consistent on this matter.”
“He had no knowledge of any conversations by anyone connected to the Trump campaign with any Russian or any foreign officials concerning any type of interference with any campaign or election in the United States. He was not aware of any continuous exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for Russian government as Sen. Franken suggested. He never heard of anybody on the campaign collaborating with the Russians.”
Sessions shot down the offer from Papadopoulos to seek a meeting between Trump and Putin, according to J.D. Gordon, a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser who was present at the meeting.
According to aides to Sessions who weren’t authorized to speak publicly about the matter, the attorney general did not give false testimony and disputes any description of the March 31 meeting that suggests Papadopoulos informed those present that he was in contact with the Russian government. “It matters what Papadopoulos said” in the meeting, one Justice Department official said.
Aides to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley did not respond to questions about whether the Iowa Republican wants Sessions to clarify or amend his testimony.
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