“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 meeting. 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.
Sessions abandons fellow Alabamian Roy Moore.
Mr. Sessions told the House Judiciary Committee, “I have no reason to doubt these women” who have accused Roy S. Moore of seeking sex or romance with them when they were teenagers.
Mr. Moore is seeking to fill the Alabama Senate seat that Mr. Sessions gave up when he was confirmed as attorney general. And Mr. Sessions remains a popular figure in Alabama. The attorney general’s views matter in his home state.
What’s more, Republican leaders in Washington are discussing whether Mr. Sessions should launch a write-in campaign to reclaim his seat. If that does not happen and Mr. Moore prevails in the Dec. 12 special election, there is talk of expelling the jurist from the Senate and prevailing on Alabama’s governor, Kay Ivey, to appoint Mr. Sessions back to the Senate.
The twin hearings: Russia — and anything but Russia.
Mr. Sessions’ appearance before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday was really a twofer. There was the hearing on the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia, guided by the committee’s Democrats who single-mindedly bored in on the topic.
Then there was the hearing-on-any-topic-other-than-Russia orchestrated by the committee’s Republicans, which scurried over federal eavesdropping law, rising crime, immigration and Hillary Clinton.
Representative Darrell Issa, Republican of California, summed up the Republican sentiment.
“I don’t speak Russian and I haven’t met with Russians and I don’t really want to talk about that today,” he said, before diving into questions about sober living homes.
The straight dope on marijuana use among ‘good people’
The Democrats were not exclusively concerned with Russia. During his time with the attorney general, Representative Steve Cohen, Democrat of Tennessee, paused the grilling to ask Mr. Sessions about a subject long associated with him: pot. Comedy ensued.
“You said one time that good people don’t smoke marijuana,” Mr. Cohen said. “Which of these people would you say are not good people?”
Mr. Sessions began to explain in earnest, but Mr. Cohen cut him off.
“Quickly. John Kasich, a good person? George Pataki, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Jeb Bush, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Judge Clarence Thomas — which are not good people?” he demanded, citing prominent Republicans who, ostensibly, have admitted smoking dope.
Mr. Sessions, laughing with much of the hearing room, chalked it up to context. “So the question was, what do you do about drug use, the epidemic we’re seeing in the country, and how you reverse it. Part of that is a cultural thing. I explained how when I became the United States attorney in 1981, and the drugs were being used widely, over a period of years, it became unfashionable, unpopular, and people were seeing — it was seen as such that good people didn’t use marijuana.”
And with that, Mr. Cohen’s allotted time for questioning ended.
The White House has its eye on his performance.
The White House was 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.”
Debate emerges on appointing a second special counsel.
Republicans were pleased that Mr. Sessions came 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.”
Mr. Sessions said that any decisions about the investigations would be made “without regard to politics, ideology, or bias.”
Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, pressed Mr. Sessions on a litany of issues that “looks like” they need a special counsel to investigate, the attorney general was brusque: “ ‘Looks like’ is not enough to appoint a special counsel.”
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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