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Top takeaways from Jeff Sessions' testimony before the House Judiciary Committee

Top 4 takeaways from Sessions' House Judiciary testimony
Attorney General Jeff Sessions testifies before the House Judiciary Committee on Nov. 14, 2017.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions testified for about five and a half hours Tuesday before the House Judiciary Committee at an oversight hearing on the Department of Justice. Many of the questions focused on seemingly inconsistent statements that Sessions has made about his knowledge of the Trump campaign's contact with Russian officials.

Here are highlights of his testimony:

1. Sessions said he now recalls being present at a March 31, 2016, meeting that included former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos.

On Oct. 18, Sessions told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he had no knowledge of any contacts between Trump campaign advisers and Russians with ties to the Kremlin.

“I did not, and I’m not aware of anyone else that did,” Sessions told the Senate panel. “I don’t believe that happened.”

However, Sessions told the House panel Tuesday that he now recalls the meeting with Papadopoulos. He said he remembered it after seeing recent news reports about the event.

At the meeting, which Sessions chaired, Papadopoulos told Donald Trump's national security advisers that he had connections that could help arrange a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to court documents. No such meeting ever took place, Trump campaign officials have said.

Papadopoulos pleaded guilty in October to making false statements and “material omissions” to the FBI about numerous communications he had with allies of the Russian government, according to a court document unsealed by special counsel Robert Mueller on Oct. 30. Mueller is investigating Russian interference in last year's presidential election and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

2. Sessions said he still doesn't remember what Papadopoulos said, but recalls "pushing back" on Papadopoulos' idea of setting up a meeting between Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The attorney general said that even though he now remembers the meeting with Papadopoulos, he doesn't remember what Papadopoulos said that day.

Still, Sessions said he remembers that he "pushed back" on Papadopoulos' offer to arrange a meeting between Trump and Kremlin-linked Russians.

Sessions testified that "I believe I made clear to him that he should not represent the campaign to Russians or anyone else."

"I pushed back against his suggestion that I thought may have been improper," he said.

3. Sessions said he has never lied to — or intentionally misled — Congress about his knowledge of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.

Sessions said that when he denied at his January confirmation hearing that he had any contact with Russian officials, he understood the question from Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., to be whether he was having ongoing contact with Russians in his role as a Trump campaign surrogate.

Sessions, after news reports emerged that he had met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, later confirmed to the Senate Judiciary Committee that he had a meeting in his Senate office to discuss non-campaign issues with Kislyak last year. He said he also talked to Kislyak briefly at the 2016 Republican National Convention.

Sessions said he did not intentionally mislead the Senate panel last month when he said he wasn't aware of any contact between Trump campaign advisers and Russian officials since he didn't recall his conversations with Papadopoulos and Page at the time.

"I have at all times conducted myself honorably ... I've always told the truth," Sessions said Tuesday.

4. The attorney general would not promise Republicans that he would appoint a new special counsel to investigate actions by the Obama administration.

Conservative Republicans on the committee pressed Sessions on whether he will appoint a second special counsel to investigate actions taken by former FBI director James Comey and former attorney general Loretta Lynch related to the closure of the email investigation that dogged Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. The FBI investigated Clinton's use of a private email server while she was secretary of State but never charged her with any crime.

In a letter to Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., on Monday, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd said Sessions has directed senior federal prosecutors to evaluate Republican members' requests for a special counsel.

"These senior prosecutors will report directly to the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General, as appropriate, and will make recommendations as to whether any matters not currently under investigation should be opened, whether any matters currently under investigation require further resources, or whether any matters merit the appointment of a Special Counsel," Boyd wrote. 

Sessions repeated the gist of that statement Tuesday and added that he could not confirm or deny that any investigations have been opened into Obama administration activities or actions by Clinton.

He said that any decisions about possible investigations would be made "without regard to politics, ideology, or bias."

Read more:

Key players in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election

Mueller's bombshell: Special counsel charges Manafort, Gates and reveals aide's Russia contacts