Attorney General Jeff Sessions told a House committee Tuesday that he had forgotten but now remembers attending a meeting at which Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos said he could help arrange a meeting between the campaign and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
He also rejected accusations that he lied when he did not mention the interactions when asked about any contacts between Russian officials and the Trump campaign.
Mr. Sessions told the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday that he “had no recollection” of the meeting until details about it were reported following the unsealing of a plea agreement for Mr. Papadopoulos.
“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,” Mr. Sessions told lawmakers Tuesday, according to prepared remarks. “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.”
Democrats on the committee pushed the attorney general further, asking whether in light of the disclosures, Mr. Sessions wanted to change prior testimony he gave in which he said he had no contact with Russian officials about the Trump campaign.
“I stand by this testimony at the intelligence committee,” Mr. Sessions said, reading from written statement as he gave his answer. “I have never met with or had any conversations with any Russians or any foreign official concerning any interference with the campaign or election in the U.S. Further I have no knowledge of any such conversations by anyone connected to the Trump campaign.”
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat, asked how others at the March 2016 meeting reacted to Mr. Papadopolous’ statements.
“I don’t recall,” Mr. Sessions said. “You alleged there was some further contacts later. I do not believe I had any knowledge of any further contacts, and I was not in regular contact with Mr. Papadopoulos.”
Later, Rep. Eric Swalwell asked the attorney general what he remembered about claims made by former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page that he informed Mr. Sessions of a trip to Russia he planned to take in July 2016. Mr. Page has said the trip was not related to the campaign and that he told Mr. Sessions about it in passing over dinner.
“No, I didn’t tell him not to go to Russia,” Mr. Sessions said Tuesday. “Am I supposed to stop him from taking a trip?”
Mr. Sessions refuted allegations that he lied or was being dishonest when he did not proactively disclose these discussions and his meetings with the Russian ambassador. He told lawmakers that had he remembered the exchange with Mr. Papadopoulos before his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last month, he would have mentioned it.
Mr. Papadopoulos’ plea agreement on charges of lying to FBI agents was unsealed Oct. 30.
Mr Sessions blamed his forgetfulness on the chaotic nature of the presidential campaign.
“It was a brilliant campaign in many ways. But it was a form of chaos every day from day one,” Mr. Sessions said. “We traveled all the time, sometimes to several places in one day. Sleep was in short supply.”
The attorney general said he’s done his best to answer questions truthfully when he’s appeared before congressional committees.
“I have been asked to remember details from a year ago such as who I saw on what day, and what meeting, and who said what to whom,” Mr. Sessions said. “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. That is a lie.”