WASHINGTON – US Attorney General Jeff Sessions told a congressional committee on Tuesday that he tried to prevent one of President Donald Trump’s campaign advisers from contacting Russian officials to set up a meeting between the magnate and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Appearing before the House Judiciary Committee, Sessions spoke for the first time about his role in a March 2016 meeting at New York’s Trump Hotel at which former campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, one of the central figures in the Russia investigation, was present.
Papadopoulos is cooperating with the investigation opened by special prosecutor Robert Mueller to determine if the Kremlin and members of Trump’s campaign colluded to help the mogul win the election and to harm the changes of then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
According to judicial documents, the Mueller investigation has found that Papadopoulos in March 2016 told Sessions and other members of the campaign of the meetings he had held with people linked to the Russian government and that they could help organize a meeting between the magnate and Putin.
Sessions’ participation in that meeting has sparked significant controversy, given that the AG said under oath on two occasions before US congressional committees that he had no knowledge of any kind of communications or meetings between members of the Trump team and individuals linked to the Kremlin.
Sessions admitted on Tuesday that he knew about those contacts and said that he had not mentioned them before because he did not recall them at that time and that, in fact, only recent news stories about Papadopoulos had refreshed his memory about them.
“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 at that meeting,” Sessions said.
“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,” he said.
“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 had I remembered it, because I pushed back against his suggestion,” the AG added.
Sessions – who was an Alabama senator when he joined the Trump campaign – said that he was very busy helping with the mogul’s presidential run and, therefore, did not clearly recall the details of the meeting.
He vehemently denied ever lying under oath.
In March 2017, Sessions had to recuse himself from the Russia investigation because he had not revealed in Senate testimony the meetings he held during the campaign with Russia’s then-ambassador to Washington, Sergey Kislyak.
US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help Trump, although the Kremlin has categorically denied acting in that way.