Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsCurtis wins Chaffetz’s former Utah House seat Overnight Cybersecurity: What we learned from Carter Page’s House Intel testimony | House to mark up foreign intel reform law | FBI can’t access Texas shooter’s phone | Sessions to testify at hearing amid Russia scrutiny FBI can’t unlock Texas shooter’s phone MORE is set to testify before the House Judiciary Committee this morning and is expected to face questions about a possible Justice Department probe into the Clinton Foundation and the ongoing Russian influence investigation.
The oversight hearing comes shortly after it was reported Sessions is weighing whether to create a second special counsel’s office to look into the Clinton Foundation.
House Judiciary Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteJuan Williams: The shame of Trump’s enablers GOP bill would ban abortions when heartbeat is detected Overnight Regulation: GOP flexes power over consumer agency | Trump lets states expand drone use | Senate panel advances controversial EPA pick | House passes bill to curb ‘sue-and-settle’ regs MORE (R-Va.) has repeatedly called on the attorney general to have a second special counsel look into the Obama administration and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGOP rushes to cut ties to Moore Papadopoulos was in regular contact with Stephen Miller, helped edit Trump speech: report Bannon jokes Clinton got her ‘ass kicked’ in 2016 election MORE‘s family charity.
Goodlatte adjourned the hearing after more than five hours, praising Sessions for his testimony and sending off a parting shot at Democrats.
“Attorney General Sessions did an excellent job of answering our questions, clarifying his position on various matters, and being straightforward unlike his predecessors, Attorneys General Lynch and Holder,” Goodlatte said in a statement.
“I commend him for his transparency and candor, and look forward to continuing to work with him to ensure the Department of Justice meets its mission of enforcing the laws of the United States.”
Sessions pressed on meetings with Russian ambassador
Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) grilled Sessions on his meetings with Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak last year, suggesting that Sessions lied by not disclosing the meetings during his confirmation hearing when asked about contacts between the campaign and Moscow.
Lieu also noted that Sessions did not disclose the meetings on his application for a security clearance as attorney general.
“You did have communications with the Russians last year, isn’t that right?” Lieu pressed.
“I had a meeting with the Russian ambassador,” Sessions answered. “Yes”
“That is exactly the opposite answer you gave under oath to the U.S. Senate,” Lieu replied, referencing Sessions’ Jan. 10 confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“Either you’re lying to the U.S. Senate, or you’re lying to the U.S. House of Representatives.”
Sessions doubled down on his defense, saying that he was at the time “explicitly responding to the shocking suggestion that I, as a surrogate, was meeting on a continuing basis with Russian officials and the implication was to impact the campaign in some sort of nefarious way.”
“All I did was meet in my office with the ambassador,” Sessions continued. “We didn’t discuss anything like that.”
Sessions spoke with Kislyak at the Republican National Convention last July and later met with him in Washington in September, which Sessions has said was in his capacity as a U.S. senator.
Sessions: I have not made a pledge of loyalty to Trump
Sessions told Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) that he has never been asked by President Trump to take an improper oath of loyalty, a pledge that former FBI director James Comey claims the president pressured him to make shortly after taking office.
“No,” Sessions said in response.
Lieu then pressed Sessions on whether he would ever take such an oath if Trump asked him to do so, to which the Justice Department chief said he “doesn’t know what a pledge of loyalty is.”
“We all owe loyalty to our supervisors. I’ve always done that to my bosses and supervisors. So you know, people are expected to be loyal to their executive branch head. But if you talk about some improper loyalty oath that goes beyond the commitment of following the law, I am not.”
Sessions defends Lynch’s use of an email pseudonym
Sessions defended former Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s use of an email pseudonym, saying that it’s common for cabinet officials to use one, including himself.
During the hearing, Rep. Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzGOP lawmaker calls for Mueller recusal over uranium deal Budget vote raises red flag for GOP on tax reform House adopts Senate budget, takes step toward tax reform MORE (R-Fla.) was asking Sessions whether he had recused himself from looking into Lynch’s use of the name “Elizabeth Carlisle” while in office.
“I would say in defense of Attorney General Lynch, I have a pseudonym also. I understand all cabinet officials do, and maybe some subcabinet officials do. She would probably have been following the advice of the Department of Justice.”
“I’m no longer interested in that,” Gaetz interjected, trying to move on.
Sessions ‘not a fan’ of WikiLeaks
Sessions told Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) that he is “not a fan of WikiLeaks” when asked about the organization. He also signaled agreement with CIA Director Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Cybersecurity: What we learned from Carter Page’s House Intel testimony | House to mark up foreign intel reform law | FBI can’t access Texas shooter’s phone | Sessions to testify at hearing amid Russia scrutiny Trump sent CIA chief to meet ex-NSA official who claims DNC hack was inside job: report The Russian connection MORE, who has described the organization as a “nonstate hostile intelligence service.”
WikiLeaks, which released troves of stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta during the 2016 presidential campaign, has at times earned praise from President Trump. Later, the U.S. intelligence community linked the stolen emails to Russia’s efforts to interfere in the presidential election.
It was revealed on Monday that Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDems win from coast to coast Falwell after Gillespie loss: ‘DC should annex’ Northern Virginia Dems see gains in Virginia’s House of Delegates MORE Jr., Trump’s eldest son, communicated privately with WikiLeaks on Twitter last year, before the November election. In most cases, the contacts involved WikiLeaks making appeals to Trump Jr. that went unanswered.
Sessions said he never emailed, texted with Papadopoulos
Sessions told lawmakers that he never exchanged emails or text messages with George Papadopoulos when he served as a foreign policy adviser for the campaign.
“I do not believe so. I am confident I did not,” Sessions said.
The attorney general also said he did not recall any communications being forwarded to him from the low-level adviser, nor does he have “specific recollections” of any conversations with campaign officials about Papadopoulos.
Sessions refuses to say whether White House has intervened in AT&T merger discussions
Sessions refused to say whether he has discussed the pending AT&T-Time Warner merger with anyone at the White House.
“I’m not able to comment on conversations or communications that Department of Justice top people have with top people at the White House,” he said in response to a question from Rep. David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineMore than a dozen lawmakers put family on campaign payroll Bipartisan lawmakers propose regulating gun bump stocks Lawmaker pledges to donate brain to help research football injuries MORE (D-R.I.).
The White House and Makan Delrahim, the Justice Department’s antitrust chief, have both denied that there has been any interference in the merger negotiations.
Cicilline, visibly angered by the response, unsuccessfully tried to get the chairman to compel Sessions to be more forthcoming.
“Either you’re invoking the Fifth Amendment or you’re invoking executive privilege,” Cicilline said. “You just can’t decline to answer because it’s uncomfortable.”
According to multiple news reports that emerged last week, the Justice Department’s antitrust division had demanded that AT&T and Time Warner sell off CNN in order to get their merger approved. CNN is a Time Warner subsidiary.
Earlier in Tuesday’s hearing, Sessions declined to comment on the merger discussions but threw doubt on the reports.
“I would just tell you that I would not be able to accept as accurate news reports that have come out on that,” he said.
Critics have raised the possibility that demands to sell CNN may have been part of President Trump’s personal vendetta against the network. And Trump ally Rupert Murdoch has reportedly offered to buy CNN.
Sessions: Comey ‘talked more than he should’
Sessions grilled on diversity
In response to questioning from Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) about diversity, Sessions revealed that he does not have an African-American on his senior staff.
“I do not have a senior staff member who is African-American,” Sessions said.
“For a lot of people who objectively look from the back … the question is whether we are going towards inclusion or diversity or whether we are going back,” Richmond said.
Sessions underwent substantial questioning about diversity and efforts to crack down on crime, which Richmond suggested would work against minority populations.
Earlier, Rep. Karen BassKaren Ruth BassNiger tragedy underscores the need for a coherent Africa strategy, answers Congress must act on public health and community as the fiscal cliff approaches US Senate must follow House lead in combating human trafficking MORE (D-Calif.) raised alarm about a report from the FBI referencing “black identity extremists.” When asked whether Black Lives Matter is a black identity extremist group, Sessions replied that he is not able to comment.
Sessions defends confirmation hearing answers on Russia contacts
Sessions defended himself against charges he lied to senators at his confirmation hearing earlier this year when he said he had no knowledge of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials over the course of the election.
It was later reported that Sessions communicated with Moscow’s ambassador to the United States twice before the election last year when he was serving as a campaign surrogate. The Justice Department has said that the contacts were in Sessions’s capacity as a senator.
“Did you have campaign communications with the Russians?” asked Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.). “Because it appears you had had campaign communications with the Russians.”
Sessions on Tuesday stressed the context of the question at the confirmation hearing and said that he answered it truthfully.
“My focus was on responding to the concern that I, as a surrogate, was participating in a continuing series of meetings with intermediaries for the Russian government,” Sessions said. “I certainly didn’t mean I had never met a Russian in the history of my life.”
“My response was, according to the way I heard the question, as honest as I could give it at the time,” he said.
Sessions dodges questions on potential Trump pardons
Sessions angered Democrats when he repeatedly dodged questions about whether the president is able to pardon members of his campaign and administration who may be under scrutiny from the special counsel.
Rep. Ted DeutchTheodore (Ted) Eliot DeutchCanadian Snowbird Visa Act aims to boost tourism spending, US jobs Two Florida members form bipartisan climate caucus The missing Israeli incitement against Palestinians MORE (D-Fla.) also pressed Sessions on whether Trump should be able to fire special counsel Robert Mueller.
“I’m not able to express an opinion on that at this point,” the attorney general responded.
He said he’s not able to comment on the possibility of Trump pardoning Papadopoulos or his family members, but noted that the president “has the power to pardon, there’s no doubt about that.”
He added that it is important that investigations are conducted without interference from the White House.
“Investigations have to be conducted by the appropriate law enforcement officers without fear and favor, without politics or bias,” he said.
But Deutch was not satisfied but the answers.
“You said when you started your testimony today that there is nothing more important than advancing the rule of law, and when you answer the way you have, it suggests that the rule of law is crumbling at our feet,” the Florida Democrat said.
Sessions pushes back on calls for Clinton special counsel
In a heated exchange with Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanGOP criticism of tax bill grows, but few ready to vote against it WATCH: Bipartisan support grows to rein in government surveillance law GOP rep: Trump did not make a ‘good deal’ on debt ceiling MORE (R-Ohio), Sessions pushed back on the immediate need for a second special counsel.
It would take “a factual basis that meets the standard of a special counsel” for the Justice Department to make such an appointment, he said.
“We will use the proper standards and that’s the only thing I can tell you, Mr. Jordan,” Sessions said. “You can have your idea but sometimes we have to study what the facts are and to evaluate whether it meets the standards it requires.”
Jordan made a fiery case for allegations of improper spying on the Trump campaign by the Obama administration Justice Department that was widely touted amongst Capitol Hill Republicans.
“We know one fact. We know the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee paid for the dossier,” he said.
“And it sure looks like the FBI was paying the author of that document and it sure looks like a major political party was working with the federal government to then turn an opposition research document — the equivalent of some National Enquirer story — into an intelligence document to take that to the FISA Court so they could then get a warrant to spy on President Trump’s campaign.”
“That’s what it looks like and I’m asking you, in addition to all the things we know about James Comey in 2016, doesn’t that warrant naming a second special counsel?”
Sessions at first demurred, noting that Comey is no longer the director of the FBI and praising the current director, Chris Wray. But pressed further by Jordan — “He’s not here today, Attorney General Sessions, and you are” — Sessions appeared to throw cold water on the immediate need for a special counsel.
“I would say ‘looks like’ is not enough basis to appoint a special counsel,” he said sharply.
Sessions: ‘I have no reason to doubt’ Moore’s accusers
Holding up pictures of Roy Moore and women who have come forward accusing him of sexual misconduct, Rep. Sheila Jackson LeeSheila Jackson LeeThe Hill’s 12:30 Report We will fight for our DREAMers Bipartisan duo offer criminal justice reform legislation MORE (D-Texas) pressed Sessions on whether he believes the accusations against the Alabama judge running for his old Senate seat.
“I have no reason to doubt these young women,” Sessions said.
Multiple women have come forward alleging that Moore pursued relationships with them when they were in high school. And The New Yorker reported Monday night that Moore had been banned from a mall for harassing teenage girls.
On Monday, a fifth woman came forward to accuse Moore of sexual misconduct alleging that Moore had sexually assaulted her in the 1970s, when she was 16.
The attorney general said the Justice Department’s ethics officials have advised him that he should stay out of any possible investigation regarding the special election given his close ties to many of the officials involved in the campaign.
Still, he promised that his agency would perform its due diligence if it merits a federal investigation.
“We will do our duty,” he said.
Sessions on need to remember every Russia meeting: ‘That’s what they’ve done to me’
Sessions jokingly warned GOP Rep. Darrell IssaDarrell Edward IssaOvernight Finance: GOP criticism of tax bill grows, but few no votes | Highlights from day two of markup | House votes to overturn joint-employer rule | Senate panel approves North Korean banking sanctions GOP criticism of tax bill grows, but few ready to vote against it Female Dem lawmaker posts video of GOP chairman ‘mansplaining’ bill to her MORE (Calif.) not to claim that he has never met with any Russians because he could be accused of being dishonest if he ever had such an interaction in passing, adding “that’s what they’ve done to me.”
“Well Congressman Issa, you said that, but I bet you have met with some Russians in your lifetime. And taking those words at face value, somebody might accuse you of not being honest. And that’s what they’ve done to me,” Sessions said after Issa claimed he doesn’t “meet with Russians.”
Issa said this is a “challenge” members of the Foreign Affairs Committee face, saying they meet with a lot of diplomats and that he does not want to try to remember “everyone and everything that was discussed in what I thought was a pro forma meeting.”
Sessions stands by testimony to Senate lawmakers in June
Sessions said that he stands by his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee in June that he has no knowledge of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians about interference in the election.
“I stand by this testimony at the Intelligence Committee: I have never met with or had any conversation with any Russians or any foreign officials concerning any type of foreign interference with the campaign or election in the United States. Further, I have no knowledge of any such conversations by anyone connected to the Trump campaign.”
Sessions says he has not discussed Papadopolous with Mueller, anyone at FBI
Sessions said he has not had discussions with special counsel Robert Mueller or anyone at the FBI about his interactions with George Papadopoulos.
“I have not had any discussions with Mr. Mueller or his team or the FBI concerning any factors with regard [to Papadopoulos],” Sessions said in response to questioning from Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.).
When pressed, Sessions also said he does not remember discussing the issue with anyone at the Justice Department, the White House or in Congress — but left the door open that conversations he does not remember may have taken place.
“I don’t know if these conversations have come up at some time, but not to obtain information,” Sessions said. “With regards to your broad question, I don’t recall at this moment, sitting here, any such discussions.”
Sessions also said he did not remember communicating with anyone in the campaign about the Papadopoulos issue.
Sessions dodges on Clinton probe recusal
Sessions declined to answer questions from Rep. John ConyersJohn James ConyersBipartisan duo offer criminal justice reform legislation Voter suppression, the blueprint to a broken democracy Trump’s North Korea strategy requires an intervention from Congress MORE Jr. (D-Mich.) regarding whether he has recused himself from any investigation related to Clinton, arguing that any yes-or-no answer would run afoul of Justice Department regulations requiring absolute silence about ongoing probes.
“I cannot answer that yes or no because under the policies of the Department of Justice, to announce the recusal in any investigation would reveal the existence of that investigation,” Sessions said.
The attorney general during his confirmation hearing in the Senate committed to stepping aside from any investigations related to Hillary Clinton.
“I believe the proper thing for me to do, would be to recuse myself from any questions involving those kind of investigations that involve Secretary Clinton and that were raised during the campaign or to be otherwise connected to it,” he told Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleySenators push mandatory sexual harassment training for members, staff Senate panel to hold hearing on bump stocks, background checks Senate panel to hold hearing on bump stocks MORE (R-Iowa) at the time.
Grassley pressed him to clarify: “You intend to recuse yourself from both the Clinton email investigation and any matters involving the Clinton Foundation, if there are any?”
“Yes,” Sessions responded.
Sessions: Trump campaign ‘a form of chaos every day’
Sessions characterized the Trump campaign as “a form of chaos” during his opening remarks.
Sessions made the comments when defending his past statements regarding the Trump campaign and Russia, suggesting that the slog of the campaign resulted in him not remembering certain meetings or conversations with other members of the campaign.
“It was a brilliant campaign, I think, in many ways. But it was a form of chaos every day from day one,” Sessions said. “We traveled sometimes to several places in one day, sleep was in short supply, and I was still a full-time senator with a very full schedule.”
“My story has never changed,” Sessions said. “I have always told the truth.”
Sessions was specifically addressing discussions he had with campaign foreign policy advisers Carter Page and George Papadopoulos, the latter of whom recently pleaded guilty for lying to FBI agents about his contacts with Russia-connected individuals.
Sessions: ‘I do now recall’ talking to Trump campaign aide Papadopoulos
Sessions addressed reports that said he knew about the activities of former Trump campaign aides George Papadopoulos and Carter Page, who met with Russian officials during the 2016 election.
“Frankly, I had no recollection of this until I saw these news reports,” he told the panel.
He added that the reports about the meeting last year with Papadopoulos jogged his memory, but he does not remember specific details besides warning him that he does not “represent the campaign with the Russian government, or any other foreign 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 in part.
“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,” he continued.
Sessions denied remembering the account of Carter Page in which Page described an interaction with him at an event at the Capitol Hill Club.
“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,” he added.
Page’s testimony before the House Intelligence Committee revealed that he met with Russian officials during his trip to Moscow and that he told the campaign about the visit, which appeared to contradict past statements from campaign officials the statements made by Sessions.
Sessions denied remembering the account Carter Page gave to the House Intelligence panel in which he described telling Sessions about his Russia trip during an event at the Capitol Hill Club.
Sessions awaiting recommendations on possible second special counsel
Sessions said that the Justice Department is exploring the possibility of a second special prosecutor.
“In response to letters from this committee and others, I have directed senior federal prosecutors to make recommendations as to whether any matters not currently under investigation should be opened, whether any matters currently under investigation require further resources, or whether any matters merit the appointment of a special counsel,” the attorney general said in his opening statement.
Goodlatte has urged the Justice Department to appoint an independent prosecutor to look into Clinton and the Obama administration.
Despite criticism from Democrats who are concerned that the Justice Department is carrying out political vendettas on behalf of Trump, Sessions assured the committee that he will go forward “without regard to politics, ideology, or bias.”
Ranking member slams ‘political motivations’ behind new DOJ letter
Ranking member John Conyers (D-Mich.) used his opening statements to take aim at the letter sent by the Justice Department to Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) suggesting that Sessions is considering appointing a new special counsel to investigate matters involving Hillary Clinton.
Conyers accused the issuing of the letter as having “political motivations,” and said that it was not sent to the committee minority, as is proper protocol.
“The assistant attorney general seems to leave the door open to appointing a new special counsel to cater to the president’s political needs,” Conyers said of the letter. “The fact that this letter was sent to the majority without the customary and appropriate notice to me indicates that the charge given to department officials to evaluate these issues has political motivations.”
The letter, which was sent Monday, indicated that Sessions might appoint a new special counsel to investigate allegations of wrongdoing by the Clinton Foundation as well as the Obama-era Uranium One deal.
Conyers suggested that President Trump is using the Justice Department to punish his political opponents.
“Virtually every Clinton-related matter that President Trump complains about has been well-litigated, carefully examined and completely debunked,” Conyers said.
Goodlatte slams Obama DOJ, warns Sessions
Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) in his opening statement slammed former Attorney General Loretta Lynch for giving “the least fulsome and least transparent testimony that I can recall in my time in Congress” that was “a disservice to the American people” and “beyond disappointing.”
Sessions, he warned, will “hear question after question today concerning your knowledge of or involvement with Russia,” Goodlatte said, according to his prepared remarks.
“I suspect this theme will be a constant refrain from my friends on the other side of the aisle.”
He expressed confidence that, had Sessions not recused himself from the federal investigation into Russian interference, he “would have been impartial and fair in following the facts wherever they led.”
But hinting at his own dissatisfaction with the former Alabama senator, Goodlatte also referenced a pair of requests that the Department of Justice (DOJ) name a second special counsel to investigate the the DOJ’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server.
“I have chosen, as chairman of this committee, to let special counsel Robert Mueller do his job, free from undue political influence,” he said.
“At the same time, however, this committee will do its duty and conduct oversight of DOJ.”