Attorney General Jeff Sessions told the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that he has “no basis to dispute” the intelligence committee’s assessment that Russia sought to interfere with the 2016 election.
“I do think they have said that they don’t believe that votes were changed,” he added.
His comment comes after President Trump yet again cast his own doubt on the conclusion, in telling reporters Saturday that he “believes” Russian President Vladimir Putin “means it” when he says there was no Russian election meddling. Trump also called some of the previous leaders of the intelligence community, including former FBI director James Comey and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, “political hacks.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he was not aware of the largely-white extremist group “sovereign citizens” targeting law enforcement officials, but said that he believed black extremist groups had, even though he couldn’t name one such group off the top of his head during a House Judiciary hearing Tuesday.
Sessions was being grilled by Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) about an internal report the Justice Department issued in August in which the FBI said “black identity extremists” had engaged in “in premeditated, retaliatory lethal violence against law enforcement.” She asked him if he considered Black Lives Matter an extremist group.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions threw some cold water on the idea of appointing a special counsel to investigate various matters related to Hillary Clinton and Democrats, as some Republicans have called for.
At a House Judiciary hearing Tuesday, Sessions stressed the “factual basis” that must be met to warrant a special counsel, as Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) grilled him on what Jordan said “looks like” the FBI working with Democrats to push the Trump-Russia dossier.
“‘Looks like’ is not enough basis to appoint a special counsel,” Sessions said.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions denied that he had been influenced by President Trump’s pressure campaign to launch Justice Department investigations into Democrats.
“I have not been improperly influenced and would not be properly influenced,” Sessions said at Tuesday’s House Judiciary hearing, while acknowledging that Trump is “bold and direct about what he says.”
The denial came in a line of questioning by House Judiciary Committee ranking member Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), after Conyers pointed to Trump’s tweets calling for Justice Department probes into Democrats and slamming Sessions.
“I would say that that the Department of Justice can never be used to retaliate against political opponents. That would be wrong,” Sessions said, when asked if it was appropriate for a country’s leader to use the criminal justice system to retaliate against political opponents.
Monday evening, the Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd said in a letter to House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) that senior Justice Department prosecutors would “evaluate” whether to open investigations into various Hillary Clinton-related matters, after Goodlatte requested a new special counsel investigation.
Conyers on Tuesday asked Sessions whether he would recuse himself from such a Clinton-related investigation, given his work for the Trump campaign.
“I cannot answer that yes or no, because under the policies of Department of Justice, to announce recusal of any investigation would reveal the existence of that investigation,” Sessions said.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions vehemently denied in a House Judiciary Committee hearing that he ever misled Congress on what he recalled about Russia-related activity during his time on the Trump campaign.
“In all of my testimony, I can only do my best to answer all of your questions as I understand them and to the best of my memory. But I will not accept and reject accusations that I have ever lied under oath. That is a lie,” Sessions said in his opening statement Tuesday.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions appears in front of the House Judiciary Committee for a hearing on Justice Department oversight Tuesday.
Since Sessions last testified in front of Congress — in a hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary last month — Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation has picked up steam, and House Judiciary Democrats have already indicated they plan to ask Sessions about a Trump campaign advisor who plead guilty to lying to the FBI about Russian contacts during the campaign.
President Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. and Wikileaks exchanged private messages on Twitter during the 2016 presidential campaign, The Atlantic reported on Monday.
According to the report, the Wikileaks account was the main driver of the conversation, and many of its messages to Trump Jr. went unanswered. However, at times the President’s son did respond, and it appears he even occasionally acted on the messages Wikileaks sent him, according to the Atlantic’s report.
This story has been updated to include responses from the commission vice chair Kris Kobach and its executive director Andrew Kossack.
A Democratic member of President Trump’s shady voter fraud commission is suing the commission for allegedly violating federal government transparency laws.
“The Commission’s operations have not been open and transparent, not even to the commissioners themselves, who have been deprived access to documents prepared by and viewed by other commissioners,” Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap (D) alleged in a complaint filed Thursday in federal court in Washington, DC.
Two days before President Donald Trump’s election, George Papadopoulos appeared in front of a Greek-American forum in Astoria, New York, and promised, in Greek, that he would personally counsel Trump to ensure “new relations, better relations, between Greece, America, and Cyprus.”
“Mr. Trump and our team thought that it is very important for me to come here and talk to the Federation,” Papadopoulos told the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York, as translated for TPM from a YouTube video of the event. “We might not win in New York, but we want Greek Americans to know what people in our team think, what Mr. Trump thinks, and what will happen on the day and the days after the man wins on Tuesday, for Greece and Cyprus.”
Such an appearance wouldn’t be unusual for a typical campaign surrogate for a typical presidential candidate. But Papadopoulos’ role as a foreign policy adviser to the campaign has taken an unexpected turn. With the revelation last week that Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI as part of the special counsel’s Russia probe, the White House and its allies have denied that he had any real campaign involvement beyond a March 2016 group meeting with Trump.
A post shared by President Donald J. Trump (@realdonaldtrump) on
“My understanding is the only interaction he ever had was the one meeting that the advisory council gathered together, where he was in a large group of other people in the room,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said last week. “And to my knowledge, that’s the only interaction they ever had. ”
What exactly Papadopoulos was up to in 2016 — and particularly in the months after the GOP convention — is still shrouded in mystery. But what has emerged in new reporting and resurfaced media appearances during that time is that the jet-setting 30-year-old was quick to claim influence with Trump. He suggested to foreign audiences that he was going to play a key role in advising the new administration, even as few paid attention to him in United States after he was initially named to the campaign.
According to the court filings in the case by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Papadopoulos, who called himself an energy consultant, spent his first few months affiliated with the campaign living in London. During that time, he communicated with three individuals presenting themselves as tied to the Russian government. One of those individuals, a London-based professor, Papadopoulos first met while on a trip to Italy about a week before being named as a Trump adviser.
On July 22, when the Republican National Convention had wrapped up and the first round of Wikileaks hacked Democratic emails had dropped, the court filings go mostly mum on Papadopoulos’ activities.
Here’s what we know about what Papadopoulos was up to from that period onward:
July 20, 2016: Cleveland
Papadopoulos appears on panel hosted by the American Jewish Committee in Cleveland, where the GOP convention is being held, joined by Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) and Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL). A picture from the event is currently Padapolous’ Facebook background photo.
Kenneth Bandler, a spokesperson for the American Jewish Committee, told TPM that Papadopoulos “identified himself as a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, but he was not representing the Trump campaign on the panel.”
August 15, 2016
Papadopoulos trail goes cold, at least publicly, for the month after the convention. According to court docs, Sam Clovis, the campaign official who brought Papadopoulos on as an adviser, communicates to him around Aug. 15 that he would “encourage” Papadopoulos to take a trip he had been pitching to the campaign to meet with Russian officials.
Clovis’ attorney told the Wall Street Journal that his client, a “polite gentleman from Iowa,” was just expressing “courtesy and appreciation.”
Early-to-mid September 2016: London
Papadopoulos tells a reporter with whom he is corresponding that he’s traveling abroad, and around Sept. 13 he says he’s in London.
According to the Washington Post, he used his trip to London to ask British officials to meet with senior government officials. He ultimately is granted a meeting with mid-level official at the Foreign Office in London, and Papadopoulos mentions to the official that he had been in contact with top Russian government officials, the Washington Post reported
A Foreign Office spokeswoman confirmed the meeting to the BBC, calling it “normal diplomatic business” as the office seeks “to build links with figures in both the Democratic and Republican presidential campaigns.”
Mid-to-late September 2016: New York
Papadopoulos is in New York, where sometime between Sept. 22-25, he meets with Ksenia Baygarova, a reporter for the privately-owned Russian news outlet Interfax.
He initially suggests they meet at Trump Tower, but ultimately they conduct the interview at a hotel.
The interview, published Sept. 30, describes Papadopoulos as one of Trump’s “foreign political advisors” whose opinions do “not necessarily coincide” with the candidate’s (a disclaimer included at Papadopoulos’ request).
The interview takes place after Papadopoulos had sent written answers to questions the reporter previously had provided him. He refuses to answer any additional questions and only allows minor changes to the written answers he’s already provided, Baygarova told TPM.
“He sounded a little bit inexperienced, but very ambitious, and I had a feeling that he is afraid to make any change into the written text without an approval of somebody else,” Baygarova said, making her think that he had a supervisor at the campaign to whom he was reporting.
Also while in New York, Papadopoulos meets with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias, who was in town for the United Nations General Assembly. A spokesman for the Greek embassy confirmed the meeting to Washington Post and said the meeting was set up as part of the embassy’s typical outreach to Greek Americans “hoping they have a sentimental attachment to Greece and that we can connect.”
October 1, 2016
Papadopoulos sends his Interfax interview to the London-based professor, according to the Mueller court documents. Papadopoulos also sent the interview to other reporters with whom he had been corresponding.
October 7, 2016
Papadopoulos is quoted as a foreign policy adviser to Trump in a policy paper written by freelance journalist Ariel Ben Solomon for the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies in Israel. (Papadopoulos had participated in a lunch at the center back in in the spring of 2016, where Trump’s views on international affairs were a topic of discussion.)
Papadopoulos first reached out to Solomon in 2014 via LinkedIn, Solomon told TPM. But their correspondence picked up in September 2016 and continued until before the election, when Papadopulos went quiet. Based on what Papadopoulos said in the correspondence, Solomon said “it was clear” he was involved in the campaign, but he wouldn’t go into any more detail.
“I didn’t get much from him about [the campaign],” Solomon said, adding their correspondence was about “professional” matters.
Late October 2016
According to the accounts of some Greek reporters who had been in touch with Papadopoulos, he tells them he has had a falling out of sorts with the campaign, but his relationship with the campaign is mended a week or so later.
Papahelas offered the lowdown on the rumors in Greece:
In the meantime, I started hearing complaints from all sorts of people regarding Papadopoulos’s attitude. He had acquired a new status in Athens and was widely regarded as being the key to having Trump’s ear. He was bestowed with awards, wined and dined by prominent Athenians and even appointed to the judging committee of a beauty pageant on a Greek island. I had expected him to get a job at the State Department as it became clear after the elections that Trump did not have enough people of his own to staff hundreds of political positions.
TPM has been unable to confirm independently Papadopoulos’ alleged beauty pageant judging gig.
November 6, 2016: New York
Papadopoulos is back in New York for a panel at the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York.
A Facebook event for the panel calls him the keynote speaker and says the topic is “What new will a Trump presidentship bring to US and to our relations with Greece and Cyprus?”
According to a video of his remarks posted to YouTube, Papadopoulos tells the audience that “Mr. Trump and our team thought that it is very important for me to come here and talk to the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York.”
(TPM had this and other videos translated by Maria Mytilinaki Kennedy, a Thessaloniki-based translator.)
Papadopoulos acknowledges that Trump has not gone into specifics on his positions affecting Greece, and says that Trump is learning about those issues gradually as he goes.
“As his counselor, as a Greek-American who knows these issues inside out, since I was little, I will do everything I can, personally as a counselor, so that the man, President Trump, knows them inside out, so that we see new relations, better relations, between Greece, America, and Cyprus, that we have ever seen here in America,” Papadopoulos says.
November 9, 2016
After Trump’s election, Papadopoulos gets a personal shoutout on Twitter from Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, whom Papadopoulos met on a trip to Greece in the spring of 2016.
Συγχαρητήρια στον νέο πρόεδρο Τραμπ σημαντική η θέση πλέον του Ελληνοαμερικανού Γιώργου Παπαδόπουλου για την Ελλάδα pic.twitter.com/tYDkSqPH7t
Papadopoulos travels to Greece, where he signals to government officials that he’ll be a key player in the new administration, even though it appears no official position had been offered to him.
He gives a speech at a conference of Greek mayors in Thessaloniki where he says that the United States “anticipates a close relationship with Greece.” In interviews with local media outlets he says that Trump should visit Greece, but with the caveat that “I cannot speak for Mr. Trump at this moment. But I would really like that as a counsel, yes.”
Nonetheless, he suggests to local media that he is playing a role putting together the new administration.
“Right now we are gradually organizing the new administration. We do not have the complete team figured out,” Papadopoulos says, when asked about a dispute between Greece and Macedonia.
“In about a month, when we know who will be in each position, then we will know, but today unfortunately I cannot inform you about what Mr. Trump will think about the Macedonian issue, the Aegean, Cyprus, Greece…” he says.
“As his counselor, I come here to show that Mr. Trump and the new administration see Greece as a friend,” he adds.
Papadopoulos, the Washington Post reported, meets with a group of Israelis involved in the West Bank settler movement and films a video documenting the confab for the Israelis.
“We had an excellent meeting with Yossi and we hope that the people of Judea and Samaria” — the name used by the Israeli right for the West Bank — “will have a great 2017,” Papadopoulos said, according Washington Post’s report of the video. “We are looking forward to ushering in a new relationship with all of Israel.”
January 27, 2017: Chicago
Papadopoulos is interviewed by the FBI as part of its Russia investigation, according to court filings. Papadopoulos later pleads guilty to lying to the FBI in this interview about certain Russia-related contacts during the campaign.
February 16, 2017
Papadopoulos interviews with the FBI again, according to court filings. The next day he deletes the Facebook account he had been using to communicate with the Russian-affiliated contacts, and a few days later he also gets a new cell phone number.
July 27, 2017: Virginia
Papadopoulos is arrested at the Dulles airport coming off a flight from Munich. He’s released the next day on the condition he limits his travel between the D.C. area and Chicago, his hometown, according to court materials.
At least five Trump campaign officials were aware of Carter Page’s plans to travel to Moscow in July 2016 — a trip that continues to bring intense scrutiny to President Trump and made Page a sought-after witness in the various probes into Russia election meddling.
A transcript of testimony Page gave to the House Intel Committee last week that was released Monday night surfaces new details about what he told the campaign about the trip, and how he now is explaining what occurred while his was in Moscow.