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Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday again revised his account of what he knew about Trump campaign dealings with Russia — revealing for the first time that he, indeed, recalled a meeting in which a campaign adviser talked about having contacts who could possibly arrange a meeting between then-candidate Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Sessions said news accounts helped refresh his recollection of the encounter with adviser George Papadopoulos, and Sessions particularly remembered pushing back on the idea that Papadopoulos was proposing. That is notable because Sessions had previously said he was “not aware” of anyone on the Trump campaign who had contacts with Russians.
1. Why does Sessions now remember shooting down the proposal from Papadopoulos?
In October, Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his Russian-related dealings and, as a part of that plea, admitted he told a group of Trump campaign officials — including Sessions and Trump himself — that he had contacts who could possibly broker a Trump-Putin meeting. That called into question Sessions's earlier assertion about not being aware of any other campaign advisers having contacts with Russians.
Sessions said that reading Papadopoulos's account improved his own recall, though his memory of the encounter was still vague.
“I remember the pushback,” Sessions said. “I remember that he suggested an ability to negotiate with Russians or others, and I thought he had no ability, or it would not be appropriate for him to do so.”
2. What explanation does Sessions give for not remembering in the first place?
Sessions vigorously disputes that he has ever been intentionally deceptive with Congress or the public when it comes to his and others' Russia related dealings.
“I will not accept, and reject, accusations that I have ever lied,” Sessions said.
He said, essentially, the Trump campaign was a hectic affair, and he should not be faulted for not recalling details of meetings that happened months ago.
“We traveled some times to several places in one day. Sleep was in short supply, and I was still a full-time Senator at a very — with a very full schedule,” Sessions said Tuesday.
3. What are the other meetings that Sessions hasn't been able to recall?
The Papadopoulos encounter is not the first instance in which Sessions has had to change his account when it comes to Russia.
At his January confirmation hearing, Sessions asserted he “did not have communications with the Russians” during the campaign. When The Washington Post later revealed that he had twice spoken with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Sessions revised that slightly, saying that he had no meetings with Russians “to discuss issues of the campaign.”
The Post, though, called that into question, reporting in July that Russia’s U.S. ambassador told his superiors that he and Sessions discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow. At an October appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sessions conceded that was possible. This time, he said he had conducted no “improper discussions with Russians at any time regarding a campaign or any other item facing this country” but acknowledged that it was possible in one of his conversations that “some comment was made about what Trump’s positions were.”
Sessions said he still does not recall an encounter in which Carter Page, another Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, told him he was planning a trip to Moscow — though Sessions said he is “not able to dispute” Page's account. Page has noted the interaction was brief, and his trip was unrelated to the Trump campaign.
4. How does this affect the Russia investigation?
Page and Papadopoulos are key figures in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with the Kremlin to influence the 2016 election. Papadopoulos already had pleaded guilty in the probe and is cooperating with investigators, and Page was the target of a secret court order last summer that allowed authorities to monitor his communications.
It is unclear, though, to what extent — if any — Sessions's shifting account could play a role. Mueller's investigators are working to determine the extent to which the Trump campaign worked with Russian officials, and they would certainly be interested in dealings between campaign advisers and those working for the Kremlin. The investigators would also potentially be interested in attempts to conceal those dealings, as that could be evidence that something more nefarious was afoot. Sessions is recused from supervision of Mueller's probe.