Democrats on Capitol Hill want answers from Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
This week’s deluge of fresh information from congressional and federal investigators revealed two previously undisclosed instances in which Sessions was allegedly directly informed about contacts between Russia and Trump campaign staffers Carter Page and George Papadopoulos.
Though Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) cautioned that perjury allegations were based on a “very careful standard,” he and other top Democrats claim Sessions appears to have failed to disclose the extent of what he knew about these contacts in his testimony to Congress.
That testimony has varied in its specificity. In June, Sessions gave a flat “no” to the Senate Intelligence Committee when asked if he was “aware of any communications” between Trump campaign officials “about Russia or Russian interests in the United States” prior to Trump’s inauguration. He offered a narrower response before the Senate Judiciary Committee in October, saying only that he had seen nothing “that would indicate collusion with Russians to impact the campaign” when asked if he’d ever overheard conversations with campaign staffers “who talked about meeting with the Russians.”
However Sessions chooses to interpret lawmakers’ questions, we now know of at least three instances in which he was allegedly told about or personally participated in communications with Russian officials or institutions during the 2016 campaign.
Sessions incidentally kicked off a chain of events that led to the appointment of a special counsel to oversee the Russia probe when he said during his confirmation hearing that he was “not aware” of any communications between the Trump campaign and Russian government, nor had he himself had any.
As it turned out, Sessions had twice met with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the United States. Furor over this discrepancy ended up prompting his recusal from the Russia investigation, clearing the way for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein eventually to appoint Robert Mueller as special counsel in the Russia investigation
Sessions’ defense that he’d had those meetings in his capacity as a senator was belied by his role as a prominent surrogate of the Trump campaign and by intelligence intercepts that showed Kislyak boasting to his superiors in Moscow of speaking to the Alabama Republican about campaign-related matters.
At a March 2016 meeting with the campaign’s hastily-assembled foreign policy team attended by Sessions, then-aide George Papadopoulos allegedly offered to use his “connections” to orchestrate a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Trump insists his memory of this meeting, which came out in court documents unsealed Monday, is hazy. But a source told NBC News that Sessions immediately “shut down this idea of Papadopoulos engaging with Russia,” pivoting the conversation to other topics.
That same source later modified those remarks, saying it was unclear that Sessions remembered putting the kibosh on this Trump-Putin meeting, but that he definitely did so.
In testimony to the House Intelligence Committee and an interview with CNN this week, former campaign adviser Carter Page divulged for the first time that he allegedly told Sessions he planned to travel to Moscow in July 2016.
Page said he mentioned the trip, which he said was “completely unrelated” to his campaign role, “in passing” during a brief encounter with Sessions.
A source familiar with the conversation told CNN that the run-in happened at a June 2016 dinner at the Capitol Hill Club attended by members of Trump’s national security team, and that Sessions “didn’t respond” when Page informed him of his upcoming visit.
Page has previously said that he met no Russian government officials during that trip to deliver a speech at the New Economic School.
As these new alleged details about his attorney general trickle out, Trump has other matters on his mind. He sent off a flurry of tweets Friday urging the Justice Department to look into how the Democrats “rigged” the 2016 primary and told reporters he was “disappointed” in the department for failing to take those steps.