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Sessions denies lying to Congress on Russia

Profile image for Eric Tucker and Sadie Gurman
Eric Tucker and Sadie Gurman, Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday displayed a hazy memory of the Trump campaign's discussions about and dealings with Russians in the 2016 election, denying he ever lied to Congress about those contacts but blaming the chaos of the race for fogging his recollections.

During more than five hours of testimony to Congress, Sessions sought to explain away apparent contradictions in his earlier accounts by citing the exhausting nature of Donald Trump's upstart but surging bid for the White House.

He also denied under repeated questioning from Democrats that he had been influenced by Trump.

But after saying under oath months ago that he was unaware of any relationship between the campaign and Russia, Sessions acknowledged for the first time that the arrest of a low-level campaign adviser reminded him after all of a meeting at which the aide, George Papadopoulos, proposed setting up a get-together between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"After reading his account and to the best of my recollection," Sessions told the House Judiciary Committee, "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," he added, "and I would gladly have reported it had I remembered it because I pushed back against his suggestion that I thought may have been improper."

Papadopoulos was arrested by the FBI and pleaded guilty last month to lying to authorities about his own foreign contacts during the campaign. That guilty plea came in a wide-ranging criminal investigation led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller, who as the Justice Department's special counsel is looking into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to sway the outcome of the 2016 presidential election and into whether the firing of James Comey as FBI director was an effort to obstruct justice.

During the Trump campaign, Sessions, then an Alabama senator, led a campaign foreign policy advisory council on which Papadopolous served. The attorney general has struggled since January to move past questions about his own foreign contacts and about his knowledge of Russian outreach efforts during the election effort.

Each congressional hearing, including Tuesday's, has focused on Sessions' own recollections, and he recused himself in March from the Justice Department's investigation into election meddling after acknowledging two previously undisclosed encounters during the campaign with the Russian ambassador to the United States.