US AG tries to distance himself from Chicago Trump advisor

An ABC7 I-Team Investigation

ByChuck Goudie and Christine Tressel via WLS logo
Wednesday, November 15, 2017
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Chuck Goudie and the I-Team have new details about a Chicago foreign policy expert who was snared in the Russia probe.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- With a sudden burst of memory, Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday testified that he now remembers a meeting with Donald Trump's Chicago foreign policy campaign advisor whose work is now the focus of a special Russia investigation.

Attorney General Sessions told the House Judiciary Committee that recent news reports jogged his recall about a meeting with Trump adviser George Papadopoulos - who at the time was trying to broker high level talks with Russia.

Earlier this year, Sessions had said he didn't know of any conversations between campaign surrogates and Russians. Since then, Chicagoan Papadopoulos admits to having lied to the FBI about that meeting.

After special counsel Robert Mueller's office unsealed a Papadopoulos plea agreement on Oct. 30, along with the indictments against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his longtime business partner Richard Gates, a photograph surfaced of Sessions, Trump and Papadopoulos sitting around the same table during a meeting of that advisory committee.

Members of the House Judiciary Committee referenced that photograph numerous times as Sessions testified before the body Tuesday morning.

Since Papadopoulos began cooperating with federal prosecutors, he has indicated that Sessions knew about the then-campaign adviser's contacts with Russia-linked individuals which were discussed at the March 2016 meeting.

"The attorney general must have been very much aware of a continuing exchange of information between the Trump campaign and the Russian government," said Rep. John Conyers, the leading Democrat on the panel. "Under oath, knowing in advance that he would be asked about this subject, the attorney general gave answers that were, at best, incomplete."

Tuesday marked Session's first appearance before the House panel in months. He told lawmakers he had "no clear recollection" of what was said at a session at which Papadopoulos proposed organizing a meeting between then-candidate Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Despite the lack of memory about what transpired during the March 2016 meeting at the Trump Tower, Sessions said he recalls rejecting Papadopoulos' proposed idea of a meeting with Putin.

"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," Sessions told the committee about the Chicagoan. "But I did not recall this event, which occurred 18 months before my testimony of a few weeks ago, and would gladly have reported it."

Later in the hearing, Sessions was even more emphatic about his move to head off an campaign entreaty to Putin: "At the meeting, I pushed back."

The attorney general blamed the campaign's helter-skelter nature in 2016 campaign for any confusion, calling the novice candidate's unconventional White House bid "a new form of chaos every day."

Sessions appeared indignant at Democrats' assertions that his explanations of his contacts with Russians and of his awareness of such communications by other campaign advisers had evolved over time, and denied accusations he had misled Congress-calling them "a lie."

"My story has never changed," Sessions insisted, sometimes slapping the table in apparent anger. "I've always told the truth."

In a particularly feisty exchange, Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Chicago) asked Sessions whether Papadopoulos-and other campaign or White House officials-could be pardoned by President Trump.

Sessions said it would be "premature" for him to comment on that. "The president had the power to pardon" Sessions added. "There's no doubt about that."