- A new report claims three witnesses in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation said Attorney General Jeff Sessions failed to “push back” against proposals of a meeting between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
- The accounts contradict Sessions’s own version of events – he said he rebuffed the proposal.
- The accounts also suggest Sessions may have misled Congress on multiple occasions about the nature of the meeting.
- Legal experts say it is unclear if Sessions could actually be charged with perjury.
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Three witnesses in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation have claimed Attorney General Jeff Sessions failed to challenge a proposal for a meeting between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin during the campaign, a Reuters investigation reported Sunday.
The report opens up the possibility that Sessions may have misled Congress about his response to the proposal during sworn testimony last year.
In November 2017, Sessions told the House Judiciary Committee that he had “pushed back” against the proposed meeting, which was presented by former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos at a meeting in March 2016.
Though the witnesses’ accounts differed in certain ways, according to Reuters, they agreed on the key point that Sessions did not push back and voiced no objections to Papadopoulos’s proposal to broker a meeting.
Papadopoulos, who had been trying to get in touch with the Russian government through intermediaries like London professor Joseph Mifsud – who had recently gone missing – continued to try to arrange a meeting between Trump’s team and Russia in the weeks after the March meeting. He had reportedly received encouragement when he told Trump officials about his efforts, according to The Atlantic.
Sessions’s recollections about the meeting have come and gone
Bennett Gershman, a Pace University law professor, said investigators could make a case against Sessions in light of the new developments.
“Proving there was intent to lie is a heavy burden for the prosecution. But now you have multiple places where Sessions has arguably made false statements,” Gershman told Reuters.
When Sessions first gave testimony before Congress in January 2017, he told lawmakers that he had no knowledge of anyone on the campaign having contacts with Russia.
“I’m not aware of any of those activities,” he told then-Sen. Al Franken. “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I didn’t have-did not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment on it.”
Months later in November, after Papadopoulos had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russians and had begun cooperating with Mueller’s team, Sessions sang a different tune. He said he did remember the meeting, albeit vaguely, and mentioned that he remembered strongly opposing Papadopoulos’s proposal, according to the Washington Post.
“I remember the pushback,” Sessions said before Congress in November 2017. “I remember that he suggested an ability to negotiate with Russians or others, and I thought he had no ability, or it would not be appropriate for him to do so.”
Sessions has also changed his story about his own personal contacts with Russia. Despite his comments in January, Sessions had personally spoken with former Russian ambassador to the US Sergei Kislyak in July and September 2016, according to the Post. When this emerged, Sessions amended his previous statement, adding that he hadn’t discussed “issues of the campaign.”
But The Post reported in July that Kislyak had told his superiors that he and Sessions had, in fact, discussed campaign and policy-related issues at their meetings. Sessions backtracked again, saying he had had no “improper discussions with Russians at any time regarding a campaign or any other item facing this country.”
House Intelligence Committee member Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu argued to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in November that Sessions had perjured himself during his testimonies.
“He lied under oath at least twice and most recently, both Carter Page and George Papadopoulos, based on their testimony and their statements, they show that Jeff Sessions contradicted himself when he said he was not aware of any campaign official talking to the Russians,” Lieu said.
But Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, said that despite Sessions’s record, his defence that he misremembered the meetings can be good enough to avoid any prosecution.
“If you’re talking about false statements, prosecutors look for something that is concrete and clear,” he told Reuters.
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