Return to Transcripts main page
AT THIS HOUR
Jeff Sessions House Judiciary Committee Hearing Regarding Russia Investigation. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired November 14, 2017 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Mr. Chairman, anything that arises in this --
-- nature, that may be or may not be connected to the -- my recusal on the question of the campaign and Russia would be discussed between me, the senior ethics adviser at the Department of Justice and that's how I make my decision. That's what I promised to do when I was confirmed before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and that's what I will do and I'm unable to provide information to you as to what decision would be -- has been made in this matter.
CHABOT: Great, thank you very much. I'm not and never was a prosecutor, but I did some criminal defense work back in the day when I practiced law for almost 20 years. It seems to me that a presidential campaign using a law firm as a conduit to pay for activities with which the campaign itself doesn't want to be directly associated is more than just dirty politics, it's also quite possibly illegal.
To me, it seems that this is at least a violation of campaign finance laws for failure to accurately disclose the actual recipients of campaign disbursements. However, this type of arrangement is not illegal, if it's not illegal under current law. I fear that we're risking opening Pandora's box with all sorts of underhanded activities by campaigns being laundered through law firms and shielded under attorney-client privilege.
As the chief law enforcement official in this country, do you share similar concerns, and in your opinion, is it legal under current law for a presidential campaign to hide its funding of the compilation and dissemination of political dirt on its opponent by using a law firm to directly pay for the work?
SESSIONS: I would think that those matters are worthy of consideration, but as to the details of them and for me to express an ultimate comment today, I'm unable to do so.
CHABOT: OK, thank you. Let me shift over to something entirely different. Federal law currently still cites marijuana as a dangerous drug, it's still prohibited, still illegal under Federal law, yet a number of states have -- for both medical purposes and now even for recreational purposes have basically made it legal. What is your Department's policy on that relative to enforcing the law? SESSION: Our policy is that the same, really, fundamentally, as the Holder-Lynch policy, which is that the Federal law remains in effect and a state can legalize marijuana for its law enforcement purposes, but it still remains illegal with regard to Federal purposes.
CHABOT: OK, it seems to me that there's always been a tremendous amount of gray area in that whole field, which I think, as a nation, we need to look much more closely at both from the states point of view in the Federal Government point of view, but that's just my feeling on that.
Running out of time, I had about four other things but let me just go to one final thing here.
I've been very involved in the area victims' rights I was the -- following Henry Hyde's leadership on this, introduced the Victims' Rights Constitutional Amendment years back, various pieces of legislation on victims' rights and I've also worked closely with the parents of murdered children and when you talk about something that affects one's family, there's nothing that effects family more adversely than something like that happening.
And we still have a capital punishment on the books, both at the federal level and many of our states. Yet these families are dragged left and right, up and down, back and forth, into hearing after hearing. These cases can drag on for more than 20 years before the imposition of capital punishment actually occurs. In many instances, obviously, it it never does.
And while these people are behind bars, oftentimes they attack, sometimes kill guards, attack, sometimes kill other inmates. So what -- what is -- I'd be interested to see, what is -- what is your -- what is your intentions relative to capital punishment in this country?
SESSIONS: Well, many states have capital punishment, the federal government has capital punishment for a number of offenses and is specifically controlled. We have, within the Department, a recommendation process through our appointed committee to seek or not seek a death penalty when a case is charged. Sometimes it's a complex thing, but I believe the death penalty -- the federal death penalty is a part of our law. I think it's a legitimate penalty. It's constitutional and we will do our duty, even in those circumstances that require the imposition of the death penalty.
CHABOT: Thank you very much my time's expired.
GOODLATTE: The Chair recognizes the gentleman from California, Ms. Lofgren, for five minutes.
LOFGREN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman and thank you Mr. Attorney General for being here today.
Former National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn is under investigation because of his work and ties to foreign governments. According to various reports, much of his work with these foreign governments went unreported when Mr. Flynn was required to make certain disclosures by law.
Now, as chairman of the Trump campaign, National Security Adviser Committee and lead adviser on the Trump transition team, I think you worked closely with Mr. Flynn. And I'd like you to answer a few yes or no questions about Mr. Flynn. And knowing that Mr. Flynn is under investigation, I'm going to stick to subject matter that predates both the special counsel's investigation and your appointment as Attorney General.
Now, the foreign policy platform at the Republican National Convention undertook dramatic changes. Did you discuss changes to the Republican foreign policy platform with Mr. Flynn at any point during the campaign?
SESSIONS: I don't recall it. I was not at the convention when the platform committee met.
LOFGREN: You -- you are the lead of the campaign, but you don't recall discussing it with him?
SESSIONS: Well that may be a bit of a stretch. I was asked to lead, inform, and find some people who would join and meet with Mr. Trump to give him advice and support regarding foreign policy. And I did so, although we were not a very effective group really.
LOFGREN: You met with Ambassador Kislyak in November of 2016. Did you discuss your meetings with Ambassador Kislyak with Mr. Flynn?
SESSIONS: Did I discuss Mr. Flynn with him?
LOFGREN: Did you discuss your meeting with the Ambassador with Mr. Flynn?
SESSIONS: No, the Ambassador -- I met with I think some 25 ambassadors that year. I did meet once in my office with Mr. Kislyak and I do not recall and don't believe I communicated any of that information to Mr. Flynn.
LOFGREN: Are you aware of any meetings between Ambassador Kislyak and Mr. Flynn that might've occurred around the time of your meeting with the ambassador?
SESSIONS: I do not.
LOFGREN: OK. In her testimony before the Senate in May, former acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, testified that one week into the Trump administration she notified the administration that Mr. Flynn had lied to Vice President Pence about discussing sanctions with Ambassador Kislyak.
As part of the transition team and the president's pick for attorney general, in January, were you notified when the Administration was notified of Mr. Flynn's lie and his susceptibility to Russian blackmail?
SESSIONS: I don't believe so. LOFGREN: All right. We now know that you were aware of the efforts of Carter Page and George Papadopoulos to meet and establish communications with the Russian government. Did you, at any point...
SESSIONS: Well, not necessarily so, about -- at lease from what Mr. Carter Page says and I don't recall that.
LOFGREN: All right. Did you at any point discussed with Michael Flynn, the possibility of then-candidate Trump or his surrogates meeting with the Russian government?
SESSIONS: I do not recall such a conversation.
LOFGREN: Did you know that Flynn was working for the Turkish government while acting as a surrogate for the Trump campaign?
SESSIONS: I don't believe I had information to that effect.
LOFGREN: Did you know that he was working for the Turkish government at any point after the election?
SESSION: I don't believe so.
LOFGREN: Were you or anyone on the Trump campaign aware of Mr. Flynn's efforts to extradite Turkish Cleric Gulen?
SESSIONS: I've read that in the paper recently, but I don't recall ever being made aware of that before this recent release of the paper.
LOFGREN: So you just read about it in the newspaper afterwards? After the inauguration, you did not know that the FBI was requested to conduct a new review of Turkey's 2016 extradition request for Mr. Gulen?
SESSIONS: The FBI was...
LOFGREN: Did you know about that?
SESSIONS: I'm aware that the Turkish government continued to press the Federal Government with regard to seeking the return of Mr. Gulen to Turkey.
LOFGREN: Did you know...
SESSIONS: And our Department had a role to play in that, although I'm not at liberty to discuss the details of that.
LOFGREN: Did you know that the Turkish government allegedly offered $15 million for Mr. Flynn to kidnap Mr. Gulen?
SESSIONS: Absolutely not. You mean -- no.
GOODLATTE: Time of the gentlewoman has expired.
The Chair recognizes the gentleman from Iowa, Mr. King, for five minutes.
KING: Thank you, Mr. Chairman and thank you General Sessions for your testimony here today and your service to our country over the years that you have been front and center.
And I -- a number things I wanted to discuss. One of them is that the DACA situation and it seems, as I recall, that you had made a public statement sometime back about the constitutionality of the policy that was implemented by President Obama. Would you care to reiterate position today?
SESSIONS: Well, the president, you know, President Obama, indicated multiple times that he felt that DACA -- he didn't have the power to do DACA in the way it was done and eventually they must've changed their mind and executed this policy to take persons who were in the country, unlawfully, and give them lawful status, work permits and even participation in Social Security.
So I felt, for some time, that that was not proper. A Federal District Court in Texas so held, and the fifth circuit court of appeals also so held, that it was in unlawful. So, what happened was, we helped work on the research but the department of homeland security withdrew the policy because it was not defenseable, in my view.
KING: And established a date to close it down on March 5th, I think, of next year?
SESSIONS: That's right. The homeland security asked for time to wind this program down. And I thought that was appropriate.
KING: And there's a lot of public dialogue about what kind of legislation might be passed in -- in conjunction with a DACA policy. And that's up in the air right now, I'm noticing the Democrats are saying we're going to have everything we want on DACA, we'll shut the government down. It causes me to think about what should happen, if Congress reaches an impass and there is no passage of any legislation to extend the DACA policy. If the president should decide on or before that March 5th date, around that period of time that he wants to extend the Dover policy, what would your position be at that time?
SESSIONS: Well, as hypothetical, Senator King, I'm not -- I don't think I should speculate on that but I do think Congress will have to give it thought. We have a law now, it's in place as Congress passed, and Congress would have to change it.
KING: And, I would just remark that I'm watching a lot of people be rewarded for violation of the rule of law, and I appreciate your emphasis on rule of law on your -- in your testimony today multiple times coming back to that point.
SESSIONS: Mr. King, I would just say, it is correct, in my view, and I think you probably share it, that something is lost whenever you provide an amnesty. It's a price will be paid if that's done, but sometimes circumstances are such it may need to be done. But we need to be careful. KING: Thank you, and it's been -- we've been made aware here in this committee that there's a significant back log in immigration cases. Have you presented any request to Congress or -- a statement that could inform as to how many resources you might need? How many judges you might need to get this back log caught up? And then an idea of how many we might need to maintain an anticipated level?
SESSIONS: That's a very good question. Yes, we've worked on it. We have some preliminary information. We're seeking a total of about 360 -- 70 judges. We've added about 50 to the total. We've shortened the time process for selecting people, not shorting the training program. And we'll -- we're adding judges.
I would say, on the backlog has gone up dramatically. It's now over 600,000. But the last two or three months, we're almost not adding to the backlog. And I'm told, by the additional work we're doing, by January, we will not be adding to the backlog, but hopefully reducing it. That would be a real change in the trends that we were heading on.
KING: Well, thank you, and then I'd just ask you to reflect as this committee anticipates the potential of a special counsel to broaden this look that I think is forced upon us, in a reluctant way.
But I certainly support this special counsel, to look back at some times here, that I believe should be incorporated into this. And that is, I look back at October 16th, 2015, when Barack Obama was speaking of Hilary Clinton, and whether she -- whether she might have violated any -- any security clauses in our statue. In particular, 18 USC 793, when he said that he had no impression that Mrs. Clinton had purposely tried to hide something. Or to squirrel away any information.
Made the point of intent, behind that in April after that -- April 10th, a similar statement she would never -- meaning Hillary Clinton, "She would never intentionally put America in any kind of jeopardy." Those words of intent caught my attention when I heard James Comey use that very word July 5th of 2016 and it seems as though he latched onto the statements made by President Obama and he more or less implied, and implemented it into an interpretation of the statute, that word, intent, as if it were a condition before there could be any prosecution for a violation of 18 USC 793.
And I -- I don't know that I have a question on that, I want to make sure that I put that into the record so that it's under consideration by the DOJ.
GOODLATTE: Time of the gentleman -- time of the gentleman has expired.
Chair recognizes the gentlewoman from Texas, Ms. Jackson Lee, for five minutes.
JACKSON LEE: I thank you very much.
Mr. General, do you believe in this book, the Constitution of the United States?
JACKSON LEE: And will abide by it with all of your intentions?
SESSIONS: That's exactly correct.
JACKSON LEE: I -- I thank you so very much. I took the liberty of reviewing federal crimes against children, particularly those dealing with sexual or physical abuse. As you well know, Leigh Corfman, Wendy Miller, Debbie Wesson Gibson, Gloria Thacker Deason and Beverly Young Nelson; these young women have accused this individual, Judge Moore, who is running for a federal office, the United States Senate, of child sexual activity.
Do you believe these young women?
SESSIONS: I am -- have no reason to doubt these young women.
JACKSON LEE: And with that in mind, if you believe these young women, do you believe Judge Moore should be seated in the Senate, if he wins? And would you introduce investigations by the DOJ regarding his actions?
SESSIONS: We will evaluate every case as to whether or not it should be investigated. This kind of case would normally be a state case. I would say, Representative Jackson Lee, that the ethics people at the Department of Justice, and I've talked to them about that when this campaign started, it's the seat I used to hold. They advised me that the attorney general should not be involved in this campaign.
I have friends in the campaign...
JACKSON LEE: Thank you, Mr. General. I have a short period of time...
SESSIONS: I have steadfastly adhered to that view...
JACKSON LEE: I want to make sure that if he comes to the United States Senate...
SESSIONS: ...and I think I should continue to do so.
JACKSON LEE: ...if he comes to the United States Senate, that there would be the possibility of referring his case for at least a federal review by the Department of Justice.
SESSIONS: We will do our duty.
JACKSON LEE: Let me also refer you back to the meeting on March 31st, 2016, with Mr. Papadopoulos. You well know that Mr. Papadopoulos, in addition to his comments in the meeting regarding a meeting between Trump and Mr. Putin, had series of meetings dealing with -- and as you can see Trump, Mr. Papadopoulos and you leading that committee, I cannot imagine your memory would fail you so much. But moving on, he was in that meeting, but you also had Stephen Miller, who was a senior policy adviser, who was noted in the stipulated statement of events, to receive conversations from Mr. Papadopoulos about his constant interaction with the Russians to intrude in the 2016 election. You continued in the October 18th meeting before the Judiciary Committee, or hearing, in the Senate, to not answer the question.
Now, in light of the facts that are now part of the record, do you wish to change your testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on June 13, 2017, where you said "I have never met with or had any conversation with any Russians or any foreign officials." Let me jump to the final part, "I have no knowledge -- I have no knowledge of any such conversations by anyone connected to the Trump campaign."
Do you want to admit under oath that you did not tell the truth or misrepresented it? Or do you want to correct your testimony right now?
SESSIONS: You're referring to my testimony at confirmations?
JACKSON LEE: Before the Senate intelligence committee. My time is short and I have two more questions, please.
SESSIONS: Well, I'm not able to respond because I don't think I understand what you are saying.
JACKSON LEE: I'm asking your Intelligence Committee testimony, do you want to change it where you indicated you had no knowledge of involvement of the Trump individuals involved in conversations regarding the Trump campaign Russians. And Mr. Miller gave -- supported Mr. Trump's press conference where he said, "Russia, if you're listening I hope you will be able to find the 30,000 e-mails."
Do you want to change your testimony that was -- where you said, I have no knowledge of any such conversation by anyone connected to the Trump campaign regarding Russians involved in the campaign. That was a testimony on June 13th.
SESSIONS: I'm not able to understand ...
JACKSON LEE: All right. Let me move forward to the (inaudible) ...
SESSIONS: Let me say this, Mr. Chairman. Could I (inaudible) ...
JACKSON LEE: The black identity.
GOODLATTE: ... the witness will be allowed to answer the question.
JACKSON LEE: Let me move to a document that you have prepared.
The gentleman keeps saying he cannot recall, he cannot recall. So I'm reclaiming my time.
GOODLATTE: The gentlewoman will suspend. The witness wants to answer the question she asked and (inaudible) ...
JACKSON LEE: Then I should be given extra time and I do not have extra time. Let me move with the black (inaudible) ...
GOODLATTE: The gentlewoman will suspend.
JACKSON LEE: I will suspend.
GOODLATTE: The witness will answer the question.
JACKSON LEE: Yes or no? Does he want to change his testimony in the Intelligence Committee?
SESSIONS: I would just say this; I stand by this testimony at the Intelligence Committee. I have never met with or had any conversation with any Russians or any foreign officials concerning any type of interference with the campaign or election in the United States.
Further, I have no knowledge of any such conversations by anyone connected to the Trump campaign.
JACKSON LEE: Thank you very much for that.
SESSIONS: Now, what I did say in my opening statement, I explained that when I was asked in October, just a few weeks ago, and I was asked about the matter, did I have any knowledge of anyone who had talked to the Russians, I indicated that I had not recalled that meeting when that occurred.
But I would've been pleased to have responded and explained it if I'd recalled it. I've tried to be honest about that, and give you my best response and did throughout all the testimony I've given, Ms. Lee.
JACKSON LEE: You stand by your testimony. Thank you very much.
Are you familiar with the names Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Tamir Rice? My question is, as I hold up the poster dealing with the report under your jurisdiction, Black Identity Extremists. It is interesting to me that you are opposing individuals who are posing lethal force, similar to the attack on Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King on COINTELPRO, but there seems to be no report dealing with the Tiki torch parade in Charlottesville, chanting, "Jews will not replace us."
Why is there an attack on black activists versus any reports dealing with the Alt-right and the white nationalists? Can you answer that question quickly?
SESSIONS: I'm not aware ...
JACKSON LEE: Are you planning on investigating that?
SESSIONS: When was that report completed?
JACKSON LEE: In August of 2017. SESSIONS: I'm not aware -- I have not studied that report...
JACKSON LEE: I ask you to because it's an attack on individuals who are simply trying to petition the government in a redress of grievances.
Let me move to criminal justice reform. We have found that mandatory minimums and over-incarceration has been the history of criminal justice. We were moving toward criminal justice reform which you opposed, as a United States Senator. And now you intend to return toward discredited Nixon-era law and order criminal justice policies, going to make America great or not -- or waste precious taxpayer dollars.
Do you have any interest in rehabilitating those incarcerated, recognizing that mandatory minimums created the opportunity for over- incarceration rather than telling your prosecutors to prosecute on every single crime?
Is there any opportunity to work with your office to deal with progressive ways of dealing with criminal justice reform at this time? Yes or no?
JACKSON LEE: All right.
SESSIONS: I would just respond and say that Senator Durbin and I worked together to reduce the crack cocaine penalties some years ago. It probably remains the largest single...
JACKSON LEE: Well, will you pull back on...
GOODLATTE: The time -- the time of the gentlewoman has expired.
JACKSON LEE: Will you pull back on your opposition of mandatory minimums? (ph)
GOODLATTE: The witness is allowed to answer the last question.
SESSIONS: I'm sorry.
GOODLATTE: Time of the gentlewoman has expired. The Chair recognizes the gentleman from California, Mr. Issa, for five minute.
ISSA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
General Sessions, it's -- it's good to see you again.
SESSIONS: Yes, sir.
ISSA: I -- I don't speak Russian and I don't meet with -- with Russians and I don't really want to ask about those questions today. But I do have some very important questions...
SESSIONS: Well, Congressman Issa, you said that, but I bet you have met with some Russian and if you -- in your lifetime and taking those words at face value, somebody might accuse you of not being honest. And that's what they've done to me.
ISSA: You're absolutely -- you're absolutely right, General Sessions, that -- that that is the challenge, is that as a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I meet with lots of ambassadors and I don't want to try to remember every one and everything that was discussed in what I thought was a pro forma meeting.
But there are a couple of areas that are left over from the previous administration that I'd like to talk to you about. One of them is we sent Loretta Lynch, General Lynch, a letter related to sober homes and a predicament. And the predicament is fairly straightforward. If -- and her answer, to be honest, to Chairman Goodlatte and the rest of us was not satisfactory and we've given your staff a copy of it.
Essentially, sober living homes are nothing but boarding houses. They're required to provide no care whatsoever to the alcoholic or recovering drug abuser because that has to be done somewhere else or they don't qualify as sober homes.
And yet, currently, there is a -- in the ninth circuit, decisions that cause cities to be unable to regulate them in a way that would prevent people from simply buying houses in a row in a very prestigious neighborhood and turning them into these, if you will, sober living homes.
Which are, again, boarding houses with 15 or more people. Will you agree to work with us to try to find an appropriate way to align your enforcement of the Americans with Disability Act and your enforcement of the Fair Housing Act with the necessity for cities to be able to, essentially, regulate who -- how many people live in a home?
SESSIONS: Yes. I would be pleased to do that. These are important act -- issues because a lot of money is being spent and some of it not wisely in these areas.
ISSA: A lot of it is federal dollars being squandered to the benefit of people that are speculating. The second one is, in a trial court ruling in the Duarte Nursery versus the American -- the Army Corps of Engineers case. Are you even familiar with this case?
SESSIONS: I'm not.
ISSA: Well, I'd like you to become familiar, because during your administration, an Assistant U.S. Attorney on your behalf argued that the waters of the U.S., which is not a valid regulation delivered to Congress and eligible under CRA to be considered or rejected, continued to argue that that was law.
Would you agree that your attorneys, on your behalf, should not argue regulations which have not been delivered to Congress and as a result, are not eligible for CRA review?
SESSIONS: Mr. Issa, I have -- now recall the case. I didn't recall it by name. That matter was intensely reviewed by a new Assistant Attorney General for the acting-police for the Environment and Natural Resources Division. After great consideration, we felt -- it was advised to me and I approved going forward with that position in court. So I will take responsibility for it.
But I got to tell you, we did look at it very hard.
ISSA: But in general, you would agree that if a regulation is created or some other words of the Executive Branch, they don't have the weight of law, unless they're delivered to Congress so we have an opportunity to review them under the Congressional Review Act?
SESSIONS: That would sound correct.
ISSA: Thank you. My last question is less of a soft ball, and neither one of these were soft ball, they're very important to California. But in a previous Congress, the Ways and Means Committee of the United States House voted for and referred criminal charges against Lois Lerner. I also was involved investigating her wrongful activity.
They referred criminal charges, and they did so under a statute that says and I'll paraphrase it as well as I can, that the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia shall present to the Grand Jury the following, and then they laid out the criminal charges. The previous Attorney General ordered the U.S. Attorney, or U.S. Attorney in District, made a decision not to enforce that. Now, the statute, as we understand it, is not a statute that says you will look at this and decide independently. It actually says it shall be presented to the Grand Jury.
Will you commit to review that? And if you agree with us as to what the statute says, and we think it's pretty plain English, order a U.S. Attorney to present to a Grand Jury, and if they no bill it, fine, but in fact, present it consistent with Congressional and statutory law?
SESSIONS: I'll review that more personally. But the Department of Justice view has been, it takes a full vote of the House on to accomplish that Act. And I'm not sure where that leaves us, but I will give it a personal review, which I have not done at this point.
ISSA: Mr. Chairman, if you can stop the clock for just one second.
GOODLATTE: I -- I -- no.
ISSA: If the entire House voted to...
GOODLATTE: The time of the gentlemen...
ISSA: Go after the U.S. Attorney...
GOODLATTE: The time of the gentleman has expired.
The Chair recognizes the gentleman from Tennessee, Mr. Cohen, for five minutes.
COHEN: Thank you, sir. Mr. Attorney General, first, I noted --
-- you went to the 50th Anniversary of the Selma, Alabama March, in