Jeff Sessions Displays Unsteady Recall on Trump-Russia …
“I had no recollection of this meeting until I saw these news reports,” Mr. Sessions said.
Mr. Sessions testified Tuesday that was still hazy on the details about what Mr. Papadopoulos had proposed.
But on one matter, he said his memory is clear: he said he shot down Mr. Papadopoulos’ idea of a Trump-Putin meet-up. And he said he told Mr. Papadopoulos that he was not authorized to represent the campaign in such discussions.
To sum up: Mr. Sessions said he could not remember much about Russian influence on the Trump campaign, except when he could block such influence.
The White House will have its eye on his performance.
The White House will be carefully watching Mr. Sessions’s performance. The attorney general has been in hot water with the president since he decided in March to recuse himself from all matters related to Russia, leaving him without control over the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, who is investigating Russian efforts to meddle in the election.
Representative Robert Goodlatte, the committee’s Republican chairman, appeared to pile on when he said, “While I understand your decision to recuse yourself was an effort by you to do the right thing, I believe you, as a person of integrity, would have been impartial and fair in following the facts wherever they led.”
Any hiccups in Mr. Sessions’s testimony would most likely only make his problems at the White House worse.
And Mr. Conyers did not make things easier for the attorney general when he asked Mr. Sessions if the president should make “public comments that might influence a pending criminal investigation.”
Mr. Sessions hesitated. “He should take great care in those issues,” he said, before adding a defense of Mr. Trump.
“I would say it’s improper,” Mr. Sessions said. “A president cannot improperly influence an investigation. And I have not been improperly influenced and would not be improperly influenced.”
Mr. Sessions will have to mind the partisan divide.
The House Judiciary Committee has a reputation as one of the most politically divided in Congress — and those differences are likely to be on plain display on Tuesday as both Republicans and Democrats wrestle with the sharp changes in policy at the Justice Department instituted under Mr. Sessions.
Republicans mostly approve of those changes.
“Under your leadership, the Justice Department has taken strides to mitigate the harms done in the prior Administration,” Mr. Goodlatte said. “I implore you to work with us to continue that trend.”
But Democrats will probably grill Mr. Sessions on the effects of curtailing the Obama-era enforcement of anti-discrimination laws, especially protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, and the Trump administration’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Republicans, on the other hand, are almost certain to press Mr. Sessions on the progress of investigations into potential leaks of classified information, which have tripled under his watch, and into the handling of the Hillary Clinton email case by the Obama Justice Department.
Debating a second special counsel
Republicans will be pleased that Mr. Sessions is coming with good news. On Monday, the Justice Department notified the committee that senior prosecutors were looking into whether a special counsel should be appointed to investigate the Obama administration’s decision to allow a Russian nuclear agency to buy Uranium One, a company that owned access to uranium in the United States. The department will also examine whether any donations to the Clinton Foundation were tied to the approval.
Republicans are investigating the matter themselves but have been clamoring for the department to get involved. On Tuesday, Mr. Goodlatte signaled his support but said again that he wanted the department to go farther and appoint a second special counsel. He also urged Mr. Sessions to let a special counsel investigate the Clinton email case.
“There are significant concerns that the partisanship of the F.B.I. and the department has weakened the ability of each to act objectively,” he said.
Democrats were incensed by the letter, which they said they did not receive. Mr. Conyers said the appointment of a new special counsel was merely to “cater to the President’s political needs.” He argued that there was not sufficient evidence to do so. And, he said, it smacked of “a banana republic.”
Then again, Mr. Sessions’s days at the department could be numbered.
The race to fill Mr. Sessions’s former Senate seat in Alabama has fallen into turmoil in recent days after five women accused the Republican nominee of misconduct when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s. Despite mounting accusations and calls by fellow Republicans, including the majority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell, to step aside, the candidate, Roy S. Moore, has remained defiant.
That’s where Mr. Sessions comes in.
Two White House officials floated on Monday a scenario under consideration that would have Mr. Sessions either run for his old seat as a write-in candidate to challenge Mr. Moore or be appointed to it should Mr. Moore win and be immediately removed from office. Mr. McConnell is said to be supportive of the idea.
Though a long shot, the move could provide Republicans with a convenient — if awkward — solution to two issues: the prospect of Mr. Moore in the Senate and Mr. Trump’s frustration with Mr. Sessions. While Mr. Sessions remains extremely popular in the state, his relationship with Mr. Trump never really recovered after the attorney general’s recusal.
Mr. Sessions is in the hot seat over Russia — again.
Mr. Sessions has twice told lawmakers under oath that as a foreign policy adviser to Mr. Trump’s campaign, he did not communicate with Russians to aid Mr. Trump’s candidacy, nor did he know of other members of the campaign who had.
His challenge on Tuesday will be to try to square those comments with recent revelations that at least one member of the campaign’s foreign policy council, which Mr. Sessions led, and another foreign policy adviser, had informed Mr. Sessions about their discussions with Russians at the time.
Mr. Sessions has already had his statements undercut once. After telling senators at his confirmation hearing in January that he had not had any contacts with Russians, it was revealed that Mr. Sessions held multiple meetings with a Russian ambassador during the campaign.
Now, Mr. Sessions must contend with comments he made last month, in another hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I did not, and I’m not aware of anyone else that did,” Mr. Sessions told senators when asked whether he believed members of the campaign had communicated with Russians.
Democrats on the committee put Mr. Sessions on alert in a letter last week, saying that they would want clarification on “inconsistencies” between those statements and those of the two campaign advisers, George Papadopoulos and Carter Page, who have acknowledged having contact with Russians.
“Under oath, knowing in advance that he would be asked about this subject, the Attorney General gave answers that were, at best, incomplete,” said Representative John Conyers, the top Democrat on the panel. “I hope the Attorney General can provide some clarification on this problem in his remarks today.”
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