Attorney General Jeff Sessions testified before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. The Democratic questioning was focused largely on the accuracy of Sessions’ shifting testimony about whether or not he was aware of Russian intermediaries having communicated with members of the Trump campaign. The latest version—that he was aware of such communications in at least one case—is worth closely parsing, considering how significantly the story has changed over time.
First, here’s a recap of the previous iterations.
Version one: During his Senate confirmation hearings in January, Sessions was asked by Sen. Al Franken: “If there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign” what would Sessions do? Sessions responded “I'm not aware of any of those activities.” He also said he did not communicate with Russians himself. That was proven untrue when it was revealed that he had met with Russian officials in the course of the campaign. Sessions later claimed he had actually been denying the allegations in the first part of Franken’s question, which mentioned a CNN report saying there was a “continuing exchange of information” between Russian intermediaries and campaign officials.
Version two: To a follow-up question from Sen. Patrick Leahy one week after that testimony, Sessions said he had never been in “contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election.”
Version three: In June testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sessions broadened the scope of his denial, saying he was unaware of conversations between anyone connected to the Trump campaign and any Russians “concerning any type of interference with any campaign.”
Version four: In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Oct. 18, Sessions acknowledged that his sworn statement to Leahy in version two was possibly inaccurate. He offered that it was “possible” that “some comment was made about what Trump’s positions were” at his various Russia meetings.
Version five: In that Oct. 18 testimony, he also furtherer clarified his initial statement to Franken. Sessions said he was unaware of communications between members of the campaign and Russians, basically repeating his initial version but without any after-the-fact caveats:
Franken: You don’t believe that surrogates from the Trump campaign had communications with the Russians? Is that what you’re saying?
Sessions: I did not, and I’m not aware of anyone else that did, and I don’t believe it happened.
Franken: And you don’t believe it now?
Sessions: I don’t believe it happened.
On Tuesday, Sessions acknowledged this testimony was also inaccurate. Here is his current version of events in light of George Papadopoulos’ guilty plea for lying to the FBI about communications with Russians and Russian intermediaries.
1. Sessions did know about Papadopoulos’ communications with Russians.
Sessions acknowledged that Papadopoulos was in a March 31 foreign policy meeting attended by Sessions at which Papadopoulos raised the issue of his connections with Russians and offered to set up a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler asked Sessions: “Did Mr. Papadopolous mention his outreach to the Russian government during that [March 31] meeting?” Sessions responded: “He made some comment to that effect…”
2. Sessions only remembered Papadopoulos’ comments about his communications with Russians once the news of his guilty plea broke, after Sessions’ most recent Senate testimony.
“I remember[ed] after having read it in a newspaper,” Sessions said in response to Nadler.
“I would have been pleased to have responded and explained it if I’d recalled it,” he said later.
3. Sessions said a number of times that he had “pushed back” against Papadopoulos’ proposal at that March 31 meeting for a Trump-Putin meeting, as well as against him making any contact with Russians on behalf of the campaign.
“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 said during his opening statement.
“[Papadopolous] said something about going to Russia and dealing with the Russians and I pushed back and said ‘you shouldn’t do it,’” Sessions said in later response to a question by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries.
“I did say ‘you don't represent something,’” he added in response to Rep. Eric Swalwell. “I pushed back at his trip and was concerned that he not go off somewhere pretending to represent the Trump campaign. He had no authority for that. This young man didn’t have any ability and ought not to be going off representing the campaign.”
And one more time in response to Rep. Jamie Raskin: “I remember that he suggested an ability to negotiate with Russians or others. And I thought he had no ability or it would not be appropriate for him to do so. And I was pretty clear about that he shouldn't be pretending to represent [the campaign].”
4. Sessions doesn’t recall what Trump’s response to Papadopoulos’ proposal for a Putin meeting was, or how anyone else in the meeting responded.
5. Sessions was not aware of any further contacts between Russians and campaign members.
“I don't believe I had any knowledge of any further contacts and I was not in regular contact with Mr. Papadopolous,” Sessions said when asked by Nadler if he had taken “any further steps to prevent Trump campaign officials and advisors or employees from further outreach to the Russians.”
“I'm not aware of it,” he added when asked if he thought that any such contacts had happened.
He then said “I don’t recall it” when asked again if he had discussed the Papadopolous issue with anyone in the campaign after that March 31 meeting.
6. Sessions did not discuss “Papadopolous’ efforts” with anyone at the FBI, the Department of Justice, on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team, or at the White House.
7. Sessions attended a dinner meeting of Trump’s foreign policy team on June 30, 2016—paid for by Sessions’ Senate re-election campaign—which Papadopolous also attended.
8. Sessions never communicated with Papadopolous electronically about Russia after that March 31 meeting.
Rep. David Cicilline: Did you exchange any e-mail, text message, or any other communication to, or from Mr. Papadopoulos about Russia or any other subject?
Sessions: I do not believe so. I'm confident I did not.
He did "not recall," however, if he was ever "forwarded" any campaign communications about Papadopoulos.
9. Sessions may have discussed Papadopoulos with someone else on the campaign, though, at some point.
"I can't say there were no conversations about him, before or after this event," Sessions said.
Given what we know about the falsehoods in Sessions’ previous testimony, Special Counsel Mueller and Senate Intelligence Committee investigators would be wise to look out for inconsistencies between the above statements and any evidence they acquire in their respective Russian investigations. Something tells me that we still might not have heard Sessions' final version of these events.