Attorney General Jeff Sessions will appear before the House Judiciary Committee next week and Democrats said Tuesday they plan to grill him about statements he has made that appear inconsistent with court filings in the special counsel's probe on Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Sessions, who was a senior national security adviser to the Trump campaign, at his confirmation hearing in January stated he had no communications with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign. Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is examining, among other things, whether any members of the Trump team coordinated with the Russians to help Trump win the White House.
When it was later revealed that Sessions had met at least twice with the Russian ambassador, he then said the meetings were not about substantive campaign matters. That, too, was later contradicted.
Last month at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Sessions said he had no communications with the Russians, and he was "not aware of anyone else [in the campaign] who did."
Then last week, a federal judge in D.C. unsealed court documents against former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos that appeared to contradict Sessions's claims. One court document — part of the first set of charges filed by Mueller in the Russia probe — showed that in March 2016 Papadopoulos attended a national security meeting in Washington with Trump and other foreign policy advisers in which he said he had "connections that could help arrange a meeting between then-candidate Trump and [Russia] President Vladimir Putin." Sessions was at the meeting.
Papadopoulos pleaded guilty on Oct. 5 to making false statements to the FBI.
"When you appear before our committee, we intend to ask you about these inconsistencies," the panel's 17 Democrats said in a letter sent to Sessions on Tuesday.
The court documents also stated that Papadopoulos was in regular touch with several senior campaign officials who determined that the campaign's interaction with the Russian government should be confined to "someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal."
The Democrats stated in their letter that "officials at the highest level in the campaign knew about Mr. Papadopoulos' interactions with Russian officials . . . and hoped to hide those interactions from the public."
Such facts, they said, "appear to contradict your sworn testimony on several occasions."
A Sessions spokeswoman declined to comment on the March meeting with Trump and Papadopoulos. But a person familiar with Sessions's recollections said that "people who remember the conversation" believed that Papadopoulos was proposing an idea of using his Russian contacts to try to set up a meeting between Trump and Putin, "which was immediately rejected by then-Senator Sessions."
Separately, records released Monday by the House Intelligence Committee showed that another Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, Carter Page, met with a senior Russian official in Moscow in July 2016 and described his trip as providing "incredible insights and outreach" by Russian lawmakers and "senior members" of Putin's administration.
The Justice Department declined to comment on the Page disclosures.
Next Tuesday's oversight hearing comes nine months after Sessions was confirmed, a delay that has frustrated the panel's Democrats, who have accused the Republican majority of ignoring the issue of Russian interference in the 2016 election and focusing instead on what they call "red herring" issues such as the now-closed investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails.
"The House Judiciary Committee has shamefully abandoned its oversight responsibilities," committee member Rep. Theodore E. Deutch (D-Fla.) said at an unrelated hearing last week. He said that following the unveiling of Mueller's first indictments last week, the committee did "absolutely nothing."
The panel's pursuit of the FBI's handling of the Clinton email investigation, he said, amounted to "scapegoating in an effort to change the subject."
But an aide for the GOP majority took issue with Deutch's characterization.
"The House Judiciary Committee is committed to allowing special counsel Mueller's investigation to proceed without intervention so that it can independently and thoroughly unearth all the facts," said the aide, who was not authorized to speak for the record. "The committee is also committed to getting answers to questions we asked last year that are seemingly not being investigated by special counsel Mueller."
The Democrats also complained that they had sent more than 40 letters requesting information of administration officials on a range of matters, and to date have received no replies. The topics included former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn's communications with Russian officials; reports that Trump planned to rework a program to counter violent extremism in a manner that would target Muslim Americans; and Sessions's participation in Trump's decision to fire the FBI director, James B. Comey, in May.
The hearing next Tuesday is the committee's first with Sessions since he was confirmed in February. By contrast, President George W. Bush's attorney general, Michael Mukasey testified three months after taking office. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., appointed by President Barack Obama, testified four months into his tenure.
According to Democratic aides, every attorney general in recent history testified before the panel in their first six months in office, except Sessions.
Sari Horwitz contributed to this report.