Attorney General Jeff Sessions once claimed he wasn’t “aware” of any contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russians. Here’s some very bad news for Jeff Sessions: the picture of him attending this March 31, 2016, meeting, tweeted out by Donald Trump, also appears to be the same meeting in which Trump aide George Papadopoulos made clear that he did indeed have Russian connections willing to help Trump’s candidacy.
Here’s how that campaign meeting was framed in the special counsel’s charging document for Papadopoulos released Monday:
On or about March 31, 2016, defendant PAPADOPOULOS attended a ‘national security meeting’ in Washington, D.C., with then-candidate Trump and other foreign policy advisors for the Campaign. When defendant PAPADOPOULOS introduced himself to the group, he stated, in sum and substance, that he had connections that could help arrange a meeting between then-candidate Trump and President Putin.”
That directly contradicts Jeff Sessions’ sworn testimony, as Marcy Wheeler points out at The Intercept.
During his confirmation process, Sessions was asked a key question by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn.: “If there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?”
“Senator Franken, I’m not aware of any of those activities,” Sessions responded. “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I didn’t have — did not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment on it.”
The question, however, was about Sessions’s knowledge of such communications, and we now know he was in a meeting in which they were discussed.
Of course, Sessions later had to amend that answer to Franken because he did have contact with Russian Ambassador Surgey Kislyak at least twice, in July and September of 2016. And although he once claimed that he took both meetings in his capacity as a sitting Senator and nothing campaign related came up, neither Sen. John McCain nor Ambassador Kislyak believe that.
But the special counsel’s plea agreement with Papadopoulos adds a new twist to Sessions’ contortionist explanations, lending more insight into why his story has changed so drastically over the last year.
Now he appears to have lied to Sen. Franken at his confirmation hearing in March not just once (saying he didn’t have any Russian “communications” himself) but at least twice (saying he wasn’t “aware” of any such communications in the campaign).
After the confirmation fiasco, during his June testimony, Sessions conveniently couldn’t recall the answers to at least 25 questions he was asked. And in his latest testimony this month, Sessions diligently worked to define down his own contacts with Russians as not being “improper” or related to Russian “interference” in the campaign (as opposed to them more generally not being campaign related at all, which is what he claimed after he was first forced to admit the contacts).
Sessions originally made very broad denials: He hadn’t had any Russian contacts and wasn’t aware of any in the Trump campaign. Now, he’s making the narrowest of claims—he personally didn’t have any contacts related to Russian “interference” that would be considered “improper.” In other words, he may have discussed the campaign with Russians, but it wasn’t illegal or related to collusion.
The Papadopoulos plea gives us one valuable clue into why he made those changes: In fact, he was privy to knowledge that other members of Team Trump were communicating with Russian operatives.
As more revelations flow from Mueller’s investigation, expect to glean a lot more insight about why Sessions’ own story has shifted so much over time.