- Attorney General Jeff Sessions is back in the spotlight amid revelations about George Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy adviser for Donald Trump’s campaign.
- Senate Democrats are demanding that Sessions come back before the Judiciary Committee to answer their questions.
Revelations about a former foreign policy adviser for President Donald Trump’s campaign, George Papadopoulos, has put the spotlight back on another top Trump official — Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
A renewed round of attention has come Sessions’s way as a result of statements he made to the Senate Judiciary Committee that appear to not line up with what is now known about Papadopoulos, who was revealed Monday to have pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI.
At a March 31 meeting of Trump’s national security team — a meeting which Sessions helped lead and is photographed at, along with Trump — Papadopoulos offered to use a Russian contact to try and set up a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, multiple outlets reported. Documents released Monday showed Papadopoulos was in contact with Russians who offered “dirt” on 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
Though Sessions rejected the March 31 proposal by Papadopoulos, as NBC News reported, the recent revelations conflict with Sessions’s past statements to Congress.
In June testimony, Sessions said, “Let me state this clearly: I have never met with or had any conversations with any Russians or foreign officials concerning any type of interference with any campaign or election. Further, I have no knowledge of any such conversations by anyone connected to the Trump campaign.”
Additionally, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham asked Sessions in October whether he ever overheard “a conversation between you and anybody on the campaign who talked about meeting with the Russians?”
“I have not seen anything that would indicate collusion with Russians to impact the campaign,” he answered.
That caused a number of senators to call for further questioning of Sessions, who already has made a number of missteps before the Judiciary Committee.
In January, during a line of questioning from Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, Sessions said he was unaware of any communications between Russian officials and Trump campaign affiliates and said he “did not have communications with the Russians.” It was later reported that Sessions had a handful of conversations during the campaign with the Russian ambassador to the US at the time, Sergey Kislyak. As a result, Sessions recused himself from all matters related to the Trump campaign and insisted he did not attempt to mislead the committee.
Democrats insist that Sessions has to come back before the Senate Judiciary Committee
“It’s hard to keep up with the constantly shifting accounts of Attorney General Sessions’s contacts with Russians during the campaign,” Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, a member of the Judiciary Committee, told Business Insider in a statement. “And it’s no longer possible for him to deny any knowledge of the Trump team’s entanglement with the Kremlin — a denial he made under oath before the Judiciary Committee just two weeks ago.”
He called on Sessions to come back before the committee to “explain himself.”
Franken, the senator who has had a number of memorable spars with Sessions during the committee hearings, sent a letter to the attorney general Thursday. In it, he wrote that the “newest revelation strongly suggests that the Senate — and the American public — cannot trust your word.”
Other Democrats on the committee, such as Sens. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, also asked for Sessions to “immediately come before” the committee.
“The Attorney General was already given an opportunity to correct his earlier misleading answers to me and Sen. Franken in January through written, supplemental testimony,” Leahy wrote. “Yet he only continued to mislead. 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.”
A Justice Department spokesperson declined to comment on Franken’s and his fellow Democrats’ statements.
“It’s a legitimate area of inquiry”
Republicans signalled that they too believe it is legitimate to further question Sessions after the Papadopoulos documents were released.
Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 in Republican leadership and a member of the Judiciary Committee, told CNN he “certainly” thinks “it’s a legitimate area of inquiry.”
And Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, told CNN that he’s “looking into” whether Sessions should amend his past testimony to the committee.
Sources close to Sessions told NBC News that, while Sessions did reject Papadopoulos’ offer, he did not recall the episode.
“The March 31 comments by this Papadopoulos person did not leave a lasting impression,” said the source. “As far as Sessions seemed to be concerned, when he shut down this idea of Papadopoulos engaging with Russia, that was the end of it and he moved the meeting along to other issues.”
That source added that Sessions wasn’t aware of Papadopoulos being offered “dirt” on Clinton.
J.D. Gordon, the former director of the Trump campaign’s national security advisory committee, told Business Insider‘s Natasha Bertrand that both he and Sessions “did not know” that Papadopoulos “continued to try and arrange” a meeting after Sessions nixed the idea at the March meeting.
Papadopoulos “obviously went to great lengths to go around me and Sen. Sessions,” Gordon said on Tuesday. “Presidential campaigns are like that. … I have been senior staff/senior adviser on 3 now … very hard to know what every single person is doing, especially since some folks deliberately go around the chain of command or circumvent it.”
Did Sessions perjure himself?
Andrew Wright, a former associate counsel to President Barack Obama and Vice President Al Gore, told Business Insider that “there are a number of questions” Sessions needs to answer about both “his proximity to Papadopoulos and his candor with respect to his answers to the Senate.”
He added that the notion that Sessions does not remember shutting down Papadopoulos at the meeting suggests “one of two things.”
“Either you’re lying, or you didn’t put in the sort of proper due-diligence to prepare for your hearing,” he said. “Neither is good, but only one of those is criminal.”
Though he credited Sessions with having “the right answer” to Papadopoulos’ proposal to set up a meeting between Trump and Putin, it makes it harder to believe that Sessions does not remember the exchange.
“It’s one thing if you’re sitting next to someone and they come up with some ridiculous idea and you sort of just move on because there are so many other things, it’s another if it prompts you to push back on it,” he said. “That’s a much more memorable event. So that’s a bad fact for him on the perjury side, even if it’s a good fact for him in a sense of his instincts about what the right answer is to the proposal.”