US attorney general Jeff Sessions was grilled in front of Congress today (Nov. 14) about everything from wiretapping to Donald Trump’s pardoning power to Sessions’ knowledge of communications between Trump campaign members and Russia.
Just as when he testified in front of the Senate in June, Sessions had difficulty recalling events that happened during the Trump campaign (a campaign whose foreign policy team he headed up).
The Trump campaign was “a form of chaos every day from day one,” Sessions testified. “We traveled all the time, sometimes to several places in one day. Sleep was in short supply.”
Last month, Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulous said in a written plea to the FBI that he had proposed Trump meet with Russian president Vladimir Putin during the campaign. In January, Sessions had claimed he was “not aware of any of those activities” when asked about contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
“I do now recall the March 2016 meeting at Trump Hotel that Mr. Papadopoulos attended, but I have no clear recollection of the details of what he said during that meeting,” Sessions said on Tuesday.
“After reading his account, and to the best of my recollection, I believe that I wanted to make clear to him that he was not authorized to represent the campaign with the Russian government, or any other foreign government, for that matter. But I did not recall this event, which occurred 18 months before my testimony of a few weeks ago, and would gladly have reported it.”
Sessions couldn’t say that “there were no conversations” about Papadopoulos between him and campaign members. “I don’t have a specific recollection,” he said.
Asked about former Trump aide Carter Page’s testimony—that during a dinner meeting of Trump’s foreign advisors, Page told Sessions he was traveling to Russia in March 2016—Sessions said he didn’t remember Page being there.
“As for Mr. Page, while I do not challenge his 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 as he left,” Sessions said.
Toward the very end of his testimony, while responding to Rep. Eric Swalwell from California, Sessions appeared to contradict his lack of memory. “No I didn’t tell [Page] not to go to Russia,” he said. “Am I supposed to stop him from taking a trip?” Sessions also seemed to push back on the idea that he had any authority during the campaign.
Rep. Ted Deutch from Florida asked a series of questions on Tuesday about Trump’s ability to pardon associates and relatives who have already been indicted or could be investigated.
Could Trump pardon Paul Manafort and Rich Gates before their trial, Deutch asked? “I haven’t researched that question,” Sessions said. “I don’t know.”
Could the president pardon Donald Trump Jr. and his other family members, Deutch asked. “I would not be able to answer that with any authority,” Sessions said.
In August, the FBI issued a report titled “Black Identity Extremists Likely Motivated to Target Law Enforcement,” alarming to some because it seemed to harken back to the FBI’s 1960s and 70s policies of unfairly targeting black activists.
Before Congress, Sessions was asked who had ordered it, but couldn’t answer.
“I’m not sure how that report got ordered,” he said.