Attorney General Jeff Sessions is currently testifying before the House Judiciary Committee, where he is facing tough questions related to the latest developments in the ongoing investigations into Russian interference in last year’s U.S. presidential election
Sessions previously appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee in October and Senate Intelligence Committee in June.
Two of President Donald Trump’s campaign advisers, including one-time campaign manager Paul Manafort, have already been indicted in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. Mueller’s probe is separate from congressional investigations.
Sessions is being grilled about Trump campaign contacts with Russia and political interference at the Justice Department.
The questions are turning a routine oversight hearing into a marquee event on Capitol Hill, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the top Democrat on the committee, told ABC News he was “amazed that [Sessions] agreed to come before the committee.”
Check back for live updates on the hearing throughout the morning:
Live updates on Sessions’ testimony before the House Judiciary Committee:
10:45 a.m.: DOJ shouldn’t “retaliate politically against opponents”
After the committee’s ranking member Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., showed Sessions several of President Trump’s tweets suggesting the Justice Department investigate former campaign rival Hillary Clinton, the attorney general was asked whether it was “common” for a country’s leader to “retaliate against his political opponents.”
“The Department of Justice can never be used to retaliate politically against opponents and that would be wrong,” Sessions said. He went on to add, following additional questioning, that the president should “take great care” not to influence a pending investigation
10:35 a.m.: Trump campaign was “a form of chaos every day from day one”
In explaining why he did not remember every moment from last year’s presidential campaign, Sessions described a hectic atmosphere surrounding Trump’s bid for the White House.
“None of you had a part in the trump campaign, and it was a brilliant campaign, I think, in many ways, but it was a form of chaos every day from day one,” said Sessions. “We traveled sometimes to several places in one day, sleep was in short supply and I was still a full-time senator with a very full schedule.”
10:33 a.m.: Sessions says he “always told the truth,” but now recalls Papadopoulos meeting
In his opening statement, Sessions told the committee he has “always told the truth,” seemingly referencing his criticized appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee in October.
On the subject of meetings attended by campaign aides George Papadopoulos and Carter Page, Sessions said he “had no recollection” of the meetings until he saw recent news reports. He previously told the Senate Judiciary Committee he was “not aware” of attempts by the campaign to communicate with Russia.
“I do now recall the March 2016 meeting at the Trump Hotel that Mr. Papadopoulos attended, but I have no clear recollection of the details of what he said at that meeting,” said Sessions. “After reading his account, and to the best of my recollection, 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.”
He continued by saying he “gladly would have reported it” had he remembered it. Sessions said he “pushed back” against what he thought was an improper suggestion.
What the committee told Sessions last week
Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee told Sessions in a letter sent last week to expect questions on Russia. The letter notes that Papadopoulos, the Trump campaign foreign policy adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents, spoke with other campaign officials about his attempts to coordinate a meeting with Russian officials.
“The meeting in question was a meeting of the Trump campaign’s National Security Advisory Committee — a working group that you chaired,” the letter said.
It goes on to note that the revelations about Papadopoulos appear to run counter to previous statements Sessions gave under oath, including his insistence during his Senate confirmation hearing that he was “not aware” of communication “activities” between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.
The attorney general later told Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., in October he was “not aware of anyone else” within the campaign who had communications with the Russians.
“There will be a lot about his sworn testimony to the Senate,” Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., said of today’s hearing.
On the topic of political interference in his department’s work, Democrats want “assurances” that the Justice Department’s leaders aren’t being pressured by Trump into “protecting friends and punishing enemies.”
“What walls will he put in place to ensure that that’s not carried out?” Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., asked.
The Democrats’ letter last week further raised the administration’s lack of “meaningful response” to “more than 40 letters” sent by committee members on issues related to everything from the firing of former FBI Director James Comey, to claims made by President Trump about the alleged “wiretapping” of Trump Tower, to the proposed suspension of White House adviser and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner’s security clearance.
“The department’s inability to respond to these letters on a timely basis is unacceptable,” the letter said. “We expect a prompt response to every reasonable oversight request.”
Sessions may also be asked about the Justice Department’s response to the nation’s latest mass shooting. More than 20 people died after a gunman opened fire at a church about 40 miles southeast of San Antonio, Texas, Nov. 5.
Sessions last week traveled with Vice President Mike Pence to Texas to visit with victims of the shooting and first responders.