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Sessions’s Lawyer Defends His Account of Trump Campaign Meeting

Category: Political News,Politics

WASHINGTON — A lawyer for Attorney General Jeff Sessions defended on Monday his client’s congressional testimony about a Trump campaign meeting in March 2016 where an adviser proposed that the candidate meet with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

The aide, George Papadopoulos, said recently in an interview and court filings that Mr. Sessions, an early and influential adviser to Mr. Trump’s campaign, welcomed the idea. His description of the meeting contradicted accounts by Mr. Sessions and another foreign policy adviser in the room, J. D. Gordon.

A lawyer for Mr. Sessions, Chuck Cooper, said in a statement on Monday that his client “has publicly testified under oath about his recollection of this meeting, and he stands by his testimony.” A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment.

The conflicting accounts pit Mr. Sessions, who has repeatedly recalibrated his recollections of any campaign contact with Russians, against Mr. Papadopoulos, who was sentenced last week to two weeks in jail for lying to investigators in the Russia inquiry.

In an interview with The New York Times before he was sentenced, Mr. Papadopoulos gave his account of the meeting for the first time. He said Mr. Trump “wasn’t committed either way, but he nodded and deferred to Jeff Sessions, who I remember being actually quite enthusiastic about a potential meeting between then-candidate Trump and Putin.”

Mr. Papadopoulos’s lawyers said in court documents that “while some in the room rebuffed George’s offer, Mr. Trump nodded with approval and deferred to Mr. Sessions, who appeared to like the idea and stated that the campaign should look into it.”

Mr. Sessions testified in October that he did not believe that Trump campaign members had contacts with Russians. He revised those statements after court documents in the special counsel investigation showed that Mr. Sessions led the March meeting where Mr. Papadopoulos described his contacts with Russia and suggested setting up a Trump-Putin meeting. The pair sat just two seats apart, photographs revealed.

Mr. Sessions later told lawmakers that news coverage of the case jogged his memory about the meeting and that he did remember admonishing Mr. Papadopoulos not to pursue a meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin.

“I pushed back at his suggestion,” Mr. Sessions said during a House Judiciary Committee hearing in November.

Mr. Gordon has said Mr. Sessions “shut down” the discussion. He said on Monday that he stood by his account.

“I don’t have anything to add to my numerous TV interviews on the subject last year,” Mr. Gordon wrote in an email, linking to one in which he said that “Senator Sessions shut down that discussion because it was a bad idea, and he said, ‘I prefer if no one ever speaks about this again.’”

Democrats have remained mum about the new account contradicting Mr. Sessions’s testimony, itself a sign of how unusual his tenure has been.

Mr. Sessions’s recusal from election-related investigations has made him the linchpin in a balancing act within the Justice Department around Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russia’s interference in the presidential race. Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, oversees Mr. Mueller’s inquiry and has publicly backed it.

Mr. Trump has made plain his displeasure with Mr. Sessions and has signaled that he could fire him after the midterm elections. Mr. Trump could replace him with an interim attorney general who would at least temporarily not be subject to Senate confirmation and could take back oversight of the special counsel investigation and move to end or at least slow it, moves Democrats adamantly oppose.

Republican allies who stood with Mr. Sessions amid months of criticisms from the president have also begun to distance themselves. Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said recently that he expected the attorney general to be fired “sooner rather than later,” and that Mr. Trump was entitled to make such a move.

And Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa and the powerful head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he would be willing to hold confirmation hearings for a new attorney general, after maintaining for months that he would not help find a replacement if Mr. Trump ousted Mr. Sessions.

“I do have time for hearings on nominees that the president might send up here that I didn’t have last year,” Mr. Grassley told reporters last month.

Democrats have focused their questions on Mr. Papadopoulos, whom they were unable to interview for their own Russia investigations while he was cooperating with the special counsel.

“The Senate Intelligence Committee would like to hear directly from Mr. Papadopoulos,” Senator Mark Warner of Virgina, the committee’s top Democrat, said in a statement.

He noted that Mr. Papadopoulos had been told by an intermediary that Russia had damaging information about Hillary Clinton and added, “I still have significant questions about how high that information went.”


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