Return to Transcripts main page
CONNECT THE WORLD
Session's Faces Grilling On Trump Camp's Russia Contacts. Aired 10- 11a ET
Aired November 14, 2017 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[10:00:13] This is CNN Breaking News.
LYNDA KINKADE, CONNECT THE WORLD, CNN: Hello and welcome to "Connect the World." I am Lynda Kinkade live in Atlanta filling in for Becky Anderson.
Let's get right to our breaking news in Washington. Lawmakers turning up the heat on Attorney General Jeff Sessions today. We could see some firing
exchanges when he testifies before house committee. That hearing is just about to get under way right now. Democrats has already put Sessions on
notice that he will grilled about the Trump's campaign contacts with Russia. Sessions repeatedly denied knowledge of any such contacts.
Recently unfilled documents raise a lot of questions. They show that Sessions was at a meeting last March in which foreign policy advisor George
Papadopoulos offered to arranged talks between then Presidential candidate Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin himself.
Let get straight to Suzanne Malveaux who is live on Capitol Hill. Suzanne certainly a lot to be grilled on today when Jeff Sessions takes the seat
there. And certainly incredibly after we found out about one of his foreign policy advisors on a team he led talking about lining up meetings
with the Russians.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well yes. We expect it will be a lot of fireworks during this particular hearing, because there's a lot of
inconsistencies here that Democrats want to get to as well. But here is how it's going to unfold. It's going to be four hours or so. Ten minutes
for the chair of this committee to begin with the opening remarks, 5 minutes and then the ranking member, 5 minutes. Jeff Sessions will then go
ahead and give his own statements and each member will tell about 5 minutes to grill him essentially. Let's start off with the first thing and that is
Russia. Jeff Sessions start it off with a confirmation hearing where he went before the senate. And he said, look, I am not aware. There's no
dealing, no contacts with Russia. Nobody on the campaign or myself. We find out later that there were three different conversations that he had
with Russian ambassador. Following that he recuses himself for all things regarding the 2016 election. The Clinton investigation, Russia
investigation and that type of thing. We have learned new information Lynda as you know very recently its national security advisor on the Trump
campaign. That being George Papadopoulos who through court documents has pled guilty to lying to the FBI saying in fact that there was a meeting,
March 2016, you can see the picture, you see then candidate Trump, there is Papadopoulos in that meting and Sessions, where he suggest that perhaps
Donald Trump should go and visit with the Russian president in Russia. We have learn too that was shot down by Sessions who was in fact his superior,
because he was head of the foreign relations committee for the campaign. So that is one inconsistency.
The second one is another adviser Carter Page, we have learned through his testimony that he gave to the House Intelligence Committee saying very
recently that he suggested and told Sessions that he was going to be going to Russia, not very much reaction responds. Coming from the President or
from Session himself. What this says to committee member who is we have talked to is did he not remember any of these contacts here. Is there
something more behind it? Was the president know? Very recently in October he went before the senate judiciary committee and said once again
repeating some of the statements that he made before that he didn't know of such contacts and such discussions. That is going to be the bottom line
here is he lying, has he president be, pushing him to do so.
KINKADE: Incredible. Suzanne standby for us. We're going to go to a couple of guests. This is happening just hours after another huge
revelation in the Russia investigation. We learned that Donald Trump Jr., one of the President's son exchange direct messages with WikiLeaks during
the campaign. Let us bring in CNN political analyst Nathan Gonzales and CNN legal analyst Paul Callan. Firstly, I want to go to Nathan on this
one. Learning about these communications between Donald Trump Jr. and WikiLeaks which is the agent of Russia. In the lead up to the election,
incredible exchanges, what does this mean for the Trump campaign and this investigation?
NATHAN GONZALES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it depends on which side of the aisle you're on when you look at this sort of news. I think for
Democrats this add into they are already feeling foul play between the Trump campaign and the Russians and this feeds into that.
[10:05:05] And so, but when you talk about the political dynamic in this country I am not sure that it is going to change fundamentally. The people
that have loyal to the President, I think are going to remain loyal to the President. That thought there is something going on, on that shouldn't
have been going on are still going to be choosing him. I think this investigation or the Mueller investigation needs to get closer to the
President in order to change the political dynamic. Because right now even though it's the President's son there's still ways. I don't put it past
this president to distance himself from his own son if it helps him politically.
KINKADE: Several times we heard that Sessions has denied any knowledge that anyone in the Trump campaign had any contacts with Russia. I want to
go to Paul on this one. We have some found from Jeff Sessions speaking last month. Let's play what he to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you don't believe that surrogates from the Trump campaign had communications with the Russians. Is that what you're saying?
JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I did not and I'm not aware of anyone else that did. And I don't believe it happened.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KINKADE: In light of what we know, Paul, can he continue to make these sort of denial and is there any way for the committee to force him to
PAUL CALLAN. CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well the committee can force him to answer, because he had agreed to appear and I don't think we have the
Attorney General of the United States taking the Fifth Amendment. He could if he wanted to, but I don't think you'll see that happen. What most
people are shocked about is he was so definitive on the issue of not knowing of anybody involved in the Trump campaign who had contact with the
Russians and now we know, Papadopoulos was at a meeting where he was discussed and one would expect Sessions would be aware of so I think now
he'll be pressed for details on how he should have forgotten the Papadopoulos meeting. That will be interesting to see on what he says.
I'm sure he would say I was so busy in that time period, I don't recall. We'll have to see.
KINKADE: We will be listening to that. Paul Callan and Nathan Gonzales. Stand by for us. We're going to go to the Sessions under way and the
chairman's making his opening statement. Let's listen in.
(BEGIN VIDEO LIVE FEED)
BOB GOODLATTE, CHAIRMAN U.S. HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Another in July and another in September calling on you to name a second special counsel to
restore the public's confidence in our justice system. Numerous matters connected to the 2016 election we remain unresolved. To date the
department has not appointed a second special counsel. Consequently this committee had no choice but to open our own joint investigation with the
house oversight and government reform committee to review Department of Justice and FBI's handling of the investigation into former secretary
Hillary Clinton and her mishandling of classified information. As we said earlier this year, it is incumbent on this committee in oversight capacity
to ensure that the agencies we oversee are above reproach and the Justice Department in particular remains immune to accusations of politicization.
Whoever it is Attorney General, the Justice Department must even handedly administer justice. You have recuse yourself from matters stemming from
the 2016 election, but there are significant concerns that the partisanship of the FBI and the department has weakened the ability of each to act
objectively. I look forward to hearing your thoughts this and what steps you are taking to remove politics from law enforcement. However, these
investigations are but a few of the many important issues we need to discuss today. For instance, we just overwhelmingly reported the USA
liberty act out of committee last week. This bipartisan legislation would reauthorize section 702 of the foreign intelligence surveillance act.
Administration has chosen to oppose any reform of the law. I understand the desire for clean reauthorization of this vital program. However, I
believe this stance is a miscalculation that risks further eroding trust in our intelligence apparatus. We hope we can work with you now at the USA
liberty act that reauthorizes a law that is vital to our nation in the battle of terrorism while protecting American liberties has been reported
out of the committee.
This is especially important given the ongoing threat of terrorist attacks in the United States as we all know, not two weeks ago eight people were
killed and almost a dozen injured when an ISIS inspired jihadist drove a rented pick-up truck into a crowded bicycle path near the World Trade
Center in New York. The terrorist threat is real and ongoing. We cannot afford to play politics with national security. I also look forward to
continuing to work with you on efforts to reform our nation's criminal justice system. There is bipartisan support to do this in congress and
with your help we can make changes that crackdown on violent offenders while also doing more to rehabilitate federal prisons and curb abuses in
the system, as well as excessive punishment to your credit since you assumed leadership of the Department of Justice. There has been a
significant increase in the prosecution of firearms offenses in the United States. For years I have criticized lax enforcement of the gun laws
already on the books enforcing this laws is the most effective way to combat violent crime in our cities and neighborhoods under your leadership,
the number of defendants charged with unlawful possession of a firearm is increased by nearly 25 percent. The number of defendants charged with
armed drug trafficking has increased 10 percent. I commend you for your focus on these prosecutions, because they will help make our streets safer.
There are many other matters on which we share common ground, especially when it comes to rectifying the failures of the Obama administration.
For example, earlier this year, the House passed legislation to ban settlement payments to non-victim third parties following your policy
directive to shut down the use of such mandatory donations. These reform initiatives followed a concerted effort by the Obama administration to use
settlement to benefit its political allies. We commend your efforts to combat illegal immigration protect our citizens from criminal aliens and to
fight back against so-called sanctuary cities more than two years have passed since Kate Steinle was murdered by an illegal immigrant who had been
deported five times to address this issue head-on by moving legislation to combat sanctuary cities and find and remove criminal gang members. Mr.
Attorney General our country is at a crossroads. Our constituents are gravely concerned that our justice system does not work for them under your
leadership, the Justice Department has taken strives to mitigate the harms done in the prior administration for you to work with us to continue that
trend. I thank you sincerely for your appearance here today. I now recognize the ranking member of the committee. The gentleman from Michigan
Mr. John Conyers for his opening statement.
[10:12:24] JOHN CONYERS, U.S. HOUSE DEMOCRAT: Thank you Mister Chairman top of the morning in the ordinary course of business. Anyone of a dozen
topics related to the Department of Justice would be worthy of his own hearing and to be clear, I would rather spend our time today discussing the
upkeep. The criminal justice system. Enforcement of civil rights in the work we must all do to ensure access to the ballot box. Instead, we must
spend our time debating the troubles of a wayward administration of the Attorney General conducts himself before Congress. President Trump
undermines the integrity of the justice system and how the department continues to ignore the oversight requests of this committee. Although
this is the Attorney General's first appearance before the house is already made three visits to our colleagues in the Senate at his confirmation
hearing. He testified that he did not have communications with the Russians.
Last month he testified the continuing exchange of information between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government did not
happen, at least to my knowledge and not with me. We now know of course that neither of these statements is true. Shortly after the Attorney
General made the first comment, the Washington Post reported that he met with the Russian ambassador at least twice during the campaign. The past
month we have also learned that the Attorney General must have been very much aware of the continuing exchange of information between the Trump
campaign and the Russian government and charging documents unsealed last month George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy advisor to the Trump campaign
admits to extensive communications with Russian contacts.
[10:15:08] On March 31, 2016 meeting of the campaign's national security advisory committee attended by candidate Trump and shared by Senator
Sessions. Mister Papadopoulos stated in substance that he had connections that could help arrange a meeting between then candidate Trump and
President Putin. It does not matter and has been reported that the Attorney General remembers this meeting after the fact. Remembers it so
vividly in fact that two unarmed sources say the senator shot Georgetown. Under oath, knowing in advance that he would be asked about the subject.
The Attorney General gave answers, but were at best incomplete. I hope the Attorney General can provide some clarification on this problem in his
remarks today. I also that he can assure us that the department is weathering near daily attacks on its independence by presidential and that
no office of the department is being used to pressure the president's political enemies. In recent months, President Trump has attack the
beleaguered Attorney General and criticized his very weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes in quotation. The president has talk over the about
firing the leadership of the department, including the Attorney General, the Deputy Attorney General, the former acting director of the FBI and
special counsel Robert Mueller. He did fire former FBI director Comey in his own words quote, because of that Russia bring with Trump in Russia in
quotation, as well as acting Attorney General Sally Yates and all 46 serving United States attorneys.
Last year who denigrated a federal judge, because of his quote "Mexican heritage" and judge Curiel was born in Indiana, by the way. Last month in
a radio interview President Trump said he was very unhappy with the Justice Department. Hours later, he proclaimed the military justice system
incomplete and total disgrace. One that stick with me is the president's July interview with the New York Times. In that interview. He begins by
once again attacking the Attorney General's credibility. Sessions never should have recused himself the president complains, then the conversation
takes a sinister turn, when Nixon came along, out of courtesy, the FBI started reporting to the Department of Justice, but the FBI person really
reports directly to the president of the United States. He goes on. I could have ended the Flynn investigation just by saying, they say it cannot
be obstruction, because you can say it is ended, it is over.
As is often the case, the president requires some correction, the director of the FBI reports directly to the Attorney General and has since the
founding of the Bureau, it can be obstruction of justice, if the president orders and investigation closed with a corrupt motive, but what strikes me
about these comments is the presidents view that the criminal justice system serves him and not the public.
President Trump seems to be believe that on a whim. He can bring pressure to bear on his enemies, dismissed charges against his allies and insulate
himself and his family from any consequence.
[10:20:15] I cannot over emphasize the danger of his perspective poses to our Republic and I served on this committee long enough to remember another
president who shared this view. I was myself on Richard Nixon's enemies list. And although we were to hold that administration accountable. Our
work is not complete. We must all remember our common responsibility to prevent that kind of abuse from happening again. I will look to the
Attorney General's partnership in this effort, but I began to worry about his resolve. Last night, in a letter sent by the department to Chairman
Goodlatte without so much as a copy to the ranking member, by the way, the Assistant Attorney General seems to leave the door open to appointing a new
host special counsel to cater to the president's political needs.
The fact that this letter was sent to the majority without the customary and appropriate notice to me indicates that the charge given to the
department officials to evaluate these issues has political motivations. Now in his own words, the Attorney General is reduced from any questions
involving investigations that involve Secretary Clinton. Further, we cannot refer an investigation through a second counsel if we lack the
evidence to predicate a criminal investigation in the first place. Virtually every Clinton related matters that President Trump complains
about is been well litigated, carefully examined and completely debunked. Still he called former Attorney General Michael Casey, cling political
opponents in jail for offenses committed in a political setting is something that we do not do here. The side alone resembles in his words, a
banana republic. Finally there is a matter of routine oversight between hearings in the recent history in this committee, new attorneys generally
usually come to see us within two or three months of taking office.
No Attorney General in recent memory is taken more than six months before making an appearance here. The Attorney General Sessions has broken that
norm. He has had more than 10 months to settle in making our communications with the department between hearings that much more
important. Today, my colleagues and I sent more than 40 letters to the Trump administration asking for information necessary to carry out our
oversight responsibilities. We sent more than a dozen of these letters directly to the Attorney General. To date, we have not received a single
We can disagree on matters of policy, Mister Attorney General, but you cannot keep us in the dark forever. When we make a reasonable oversight
request. We expect you to reply in a prompt and responsive manner, and I hope you can explain by your department has chosen to ignore these letters.
More importantly, I hope that you will be more forthcoming with your answers, both in your testimony today and in the weeks to come. And I look
forward to your testimony and Mister Chairman, I thank you, and you back the balance of my time.
GOODLATTE: Thank you John. That objection all of the members opening statements will be made a part of the record. We welcome our distinguished
witness and if you would please rise, I will begin by swearing you in.
[10:25:09] Please raise you right-hand. Do you solemnly swear that the testimony that you about to give shall be the truth the whole truth and
nothing but the truth so help you God, thank you, but the records show that the witness answered in the affirmative.
Jeff Sessions was sworn in as the 84th Attorney General of the United States on February 9, 2017. From 1996 to his confirmation to leave the
Department of Justice's, Mr. Sessions served as United States Senator for Alabama. Previously Attorney General Sessions served as an assistant
United States attorney and United States attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, Alabama Attorney General and Captain in the United States Army
reserve. Attorney General Sessions is a graduate of Huntingdon College and University of Alabama law school. Welcome Attorney General Sessions are
your entire written state will be entered into the record and we ask that you summarize your testimony in five minutes, but noted that the ranking
member took a few more minutes and that if you find that necessary, please feel free to do that as well. Welcome.
JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Thank you very much, Mister Chairman. It is an honor and a big for this distinguished committing having served 20
years on your counterpart in the Senate that the Senate Judiciary committee. Mister Chairman, I must note that I know with regret, your
announcement of retirement and I know wants all that our relationship is been good in the past and hope it will continue to be good. You serve
here, you done a fabulous job in leading this committee.
On my first day as Attorney General, I spoke about quote the critical role, we at the department play in maintaining and strengthening the rule of law,
which forms the foundation of our liberty, our safety and our prosperity. In this rule of law, we are blessed beyond all nations. So, I truly believe
that and at this department. We must do all we can to ensure that it is preserved and advanced. Such ideals transcend politics from that date to
today with the Department of Justice at work to be faithful to that mission. Let me share some things we have done on this issue. The
president says in order to reduce crime, not to the law all out crime to continue the increase and we embrace that mission about crime rate has
risen in the homicide rate has risen by more than 20 percent in just two years, really after 30 years of decline in violent crime after a careful
review, we have established a reinvigorated project safe neighborhood program as a foundational policy for public safety.
It is been proven to get results as far seven years of implementation PSN reduce violent crime by 4.1 percent with case study showing reductions in
certain areas where was intensely output applied about the 42 percent, so we are also focusing on criminals with guns. As you mentioned, Mister
Chairman, we have seen a 23 percent increase in gun prosecutions and the second quarter of this first for this fiscal year. My first thought on all
year and I am honored to lead this superb men and women of the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, ATF and United States marshals service to work
together every day with our state and local partners in this core crime- fighting mission that is the responsibility of the department. Last year we saw a staggering 61 percent increase in the number of law enforcement
officers killed in the line of duty, because of a felony, and on average more than 150 officers were assaulted every single day. These numbers are
Fortunately, the president understands this is directed us at the beginning of my administration to back our men and women in blue. We are making it
clear that we stand with our law enforcement partners 100 percent. They are the solution to crime, not the problem. We have also protected the
rule of law in our own department. We prohibited so call third-party settlements. Their board being used to bankroll are special interest
groups, resell civil cases regarding the affordable care act birth-control mandate settlement cases of many groups of the of tax-exempt on groups
status was significantly and wrongfully delayed by the Internal Revenue Service. We have also provided legal counsel to this administration in
favor of ending several other unlawful policies.
[10:30:09] This includes President Trump's order ending billions in funding for insurance companies that were not appropriated by Congress
under the Affordable Care Act. This action was at House and filed a lawsuit to stop putting the end to one of the most dramatic erosions of the
congressional appropriations power in our history.
House members, you are correct to challenge that. You won in the District Court, we believe you are correct and we had that -- we reversed the policy
and had that matter withdrawn -- the policy withdrawn.
We put an end to actions by the previous administration to circumvent Congress' duly passed immigration laws on the DACA. The policy gave
individuals that were here illegally, certificates of lawful status, work permits and the right of the dissipating Social Security.
We went through that unlawful policy and now the issue is in the hands of Congress really where it belongs. We have filed briefs defending a
properly enacted state voter identification laws, lawful redistricting plans, religious liberty and free speech on college campuses.
In short, it is our mission to report and to restore the American people's confidence in the Department of Justice by defending the rule of law and
enforcing the laws as you have passed them, and it is a mission we are honored to undertake.
In response to letters from this committee and others, are directed senior federal prosecutors to make recommendations as to whether any matters not
currently under investigation should be open whether any matters currently under investigation require further resources and whether any matters under
consideration may met the appointment of a Special Counsel.
And as you are aware, the department's inspector general has an active review of allegations that FBI policies and procedures were not followed
last year in a number of matters that you addressed.
And Mr. Chairman, a letter was addressed to you because it was a response to your letter and that is how it was -- was sent. And we will make such
decisions without regard -- you hear me, without regard the politics, ideology, or bias.
As many of you know, the department has a long-standing policy not to confirm or deny the existence of investigations. This policy can be
frustrating I understand, especially when there is great public interest about a matter.
But it enhances justice when we act under the law, with professionalism and discipline, this policy necessarily precludes any discussion on cases I may
be recused from because to do so would confirm the existence of underlying investigations.
To the extent, a matter comes to the attention of my office that may want consideration of recusal, I review the issue, consult with the appropriate
department, Ethics officials and make my decision as I promised the Senate committee when I was confirmed.
Lastly, I would like to address the false charges made about my previous testimony, my answers have not changed. I have always told the truth and I
have answered every question as I understood them to the best of my recollection as I will continue to do today.
I would like to address recent news reports regarding meetings during the campaign, attended by George Papadopoulos and Carter Page, among others.
Frankly, I had no recollection of this meeting until I saw these news reports.
I do now recall that the March 2016 meeting at the Trump Hotel that most of Papadopoulos attended but I have no clear recollection of the details of
what he said at that meeting.
After reading his account into the best of my recollection, I believe that I wanted to make clear to him that he would not authorize to represent the
campaign with the Russian government or any other foreign government for that matter.
But I did not recall this event, which occurred 18 months before my testimony of a few weeks ago and I would gladly have reported it, I had --
I remembered it because I push back against his suggestion of that I thought may have been improper.
[10:35:00] As for Mr. Page, while I do not challenge his recollection, I have no memory of his present at a dinner at the Capitol Hill Club or any
passing conversation he may have had with me as he left the dinner.
All you have been in campaigns, let me just suggest and most of you have not participated in a presidential campaign and 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.
We traveled sometimes in several places in one day. Sleep was in short supply, and I was still a full-time senator at a very -- with a very full
schedule. During this year I have spent close to 20 hours testifying before Congress.
Before today, I have been asked to remember details from a year ago, such as who I saw on what day and what meeting, and who said what, and when.
And all of my testimony, I can only do my best to answer your questions as I understand them and to the best of my memory.
But I will not accept and reject accusations that I ever lied, that is a lot. Let me be clear, I have been at all times conducted myself honorably
and in a manner consistent with the high standards and responsibilities of the office of attorney general which I reedier.
I spent 15 years in that department. I love that department. I honor that department and will do my dead level best to be worthy of your attorney
general, but as I said before my story is never changed.
I have always told the truth and I have answered every question to the best of my recollection, and I will continue to do so today. With that, Mr.
Chairman, I'm honored to take your questions.
BOB GOODLATTE, CHAIRMAN OF THE HOUSE, COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY: Thank you, General Sessions. We'll now proceed onto the five day in a row with
questions. And I will begin by recognizing myself.
Under your leadership, the prosecution of firearms offenses have increased 23 percent over the same period of the previous year. Furthermore, the
number of defendants charged with using a firearm and violent crimes of drug trafficking rose 10 percent over the previous year.
We have a slide which shows the increase as compared to the Obama era numbers. What do these increased prosecutions of firearms offenses
indicate about the Department of Justice's commitment to fighting violent crime, particularly with the use of firearms in this country?
SESSIONS: Mr. Chairman, as a formal federal prosecutor who emphasize gun prosecutions have long believed that they have a significant impact in
reducing violent crime. Professors of earlier this year of explained that they share that view based on scientific analysis.
It will be a high priority of ours you are correct, if prosecution fail, one incident that was raised during the Texas terrific -- horrible shooting
at them church there in Sutherland on Texas was the ability of an individual to get a firearm and whether or not they filed correctly, they
are form before you get one.
It requires questions about criminal convictions and court-martials. Those prosecutions I have noticed have drop by over 50 percent in the last three
or four years.
I think those are worthy prosecutions and when a criminal is carrying a gun during a criminal act of some other time, that is a clear and present
danger to the public, in those cases are important and the impact reduction of crime.
GOODLATTE: As you are aware, I and a majority members of this committee have on multiple occasions requested a Special Counsel to investigate
Former Secretary Hillary Clinton's mishandling of classified information, and the actions of former Attorney General Lynch with respect to former FBI
Director Comey's decision not to prosecute former Secretary Clinton.
I receive of the department's letter from yesterday, stating that senior federal prosecutors will review our letters and make recommendations as to
whether any matters not currently under investigation should be open require further resources or merit the appointment of a Special Counsel.
Do I have your assurance that these matters will proceed fairly and expeditiously?
SESSIONS: Yes, you can, Mr. Chairman, and you can be sure that they will be done without political influence. And they will be done correctly and
[10:40:00] GOODLATTE: You also reference an ongoing inspector general investigation into many of the matters we have raised. Will you ensure
that the I.G. briefs this committee on his findings in closed session if necessary?
SESSIONS: I will do my best to comply with that. The inspector general is able to announce investigations in a way that we do not on the normal
criminal process side of the Department of Justice and I assume he would be able to do that.
GOODLATTE: Over the past year, we have seen numerous apparent disclosures of unmasked names of U.S. citizens in the context of Intelligence reports.
Which crimes are violated when these unmasked names are disclosed, for example to the press, how does the Department of Justice investigate such
SESSIONS: Mr. Chairman, I could implicate a number of legal prohibitions and it could be clearly a release of classified information contrary to
law, and it's a very grave offense and it certainly goes against the core policies of this government to protect those manners from disclosure.
And the second part of your question was how the department investigate such unauthorized -- we have members of the community, we had about nine
open investigations of classified leaks in the last three years.
We have 27 investigations open today. We intend to get to the bottom of these leaks. I think it reached -- has reached epidemic proportions. It
cannot be allowed to continue and we will do our best effort to ensure that it does not continue.
GOODLATTE: And on April 11, you issued a memorandum to all federal prosecutors requesting that they make prosecution of certain immigration
offenses a higher priority.
Do your knowledge have the number of federal prosecutions increased nationwide for offenses such as harboring aliens, improper entry and
SESSIONS: I do not have the statistics on that. But I believe there have been some increases in those cases. One thing we have seen is a reduction
of attempts to enter the country illegally and that is good news, and should result in some decline in some prosecutions.
GOODLATTE: And finally, as you know, this committee did a great deal of work to enact criminal justice reform legislation last Congress, will you
continue to work in good faith with me and the members of this committee on both sides of the aisle to identify and craft responsible reforms?
SESSIONS: I certainly, Mr. Chairman.
GOODLATTE: Thank you, General Sessions. I now recognize the ranking member of the committee, Mr. Conyers for five minutes.
REP. JOHN CONYERS (D), MICHIGAN: Thank you, Mister Chairman, and welcome again Mr. Attorney General. I would like to begin by putting a few
statements by the president up on the screen, the first from July 24, 2017.
So why are not the committees and investigators, and of course our beleaguered attorney general looking into crooked Hillary crimes in Russia
The second from November 3rd, everybody's asking why the Justice Department and the FBI is not looking at all of the dishonesty going on with crooked
Hillary and the Dems, in quotation.
The third, also from November 3ed, Pocahontas just stated that the Democrats lead by the -- led by the legendary crooked Hillary Clinton
rigged the primaries.
Let us go to the FBI and Justice Department, I believe he is referring to Senator Elizabeth Warren and that last one when Richard Nixon spoke about
us that way, at least he had the courtesy to do it behind closed doors.
Mr. Attorney General, a few questions for you. Yes or no, please. A functioning democracy, is it common for the leader of the country to order
the criminal justice system to retaliate against his political opponents?
SESSIONS: Is that a question?
CONYERS: Yes, that is the question.
SESSIONS: Is it proper? Is that what you...
[10:45:00] CONYERS: No. You answer to me whether it is yes or no, your response.
SESSIONS: But I did not quite catch the beginning of the question. I'm sorry.
CONYERS: In a functioning democracy, is it common for the leader of the country to order the criminal justice system to retaliate against his
SESSIONS: Mr. Conyers, I would say that it's -- the Department of Justice can never be used to retaliate politically against opponents and that would
CONYERS: I interpret that is no.
SESSIONS: The answer stands for itself, I guess.
CONYERS: Well I just -- that would make it a little easier if you just responded yes or no if you can. Here's another. Should the president of
the United States make public comments that might influence a pending criminal investigation?
SESSIONS: Should it take great care in those issues?
CONYERS: Could you respond yes or no?
SESSIONS: Well I don't know exactly the facts of what you are raising and what amounts to the concern you have. I would say it is improper to
influence -- a president cannot improperly influence an investigation.
And I am not been improperly influenced and would not be improperly influenced. The president speaks his mind. He is bold and direct about
what he says but elected him. But we do our duty every day based on all the facts.
CONYERS: You're claming my time. I am not imputing these comments to you or what you would do in advance. Last night, sir, the Assistant Attorney
General sent the chairman a letter suggesting that the Attorney General is directed senior federal prosecutors to evaluate certain issues like the
sale of Uranium One in 2010.
But at your confirmation hearing you said, I believe the proper thing for me to do would be to recuse myself from any questions involving those kinds
of investigations that involve Secretary Clinton and that were raised during the campaign, or to be otherwise connected to it. Now, for my yes
or no question. Are you recused from investigations that involve Secretary Clinton?
SESSIONS: Mr. Chairman, it's -- I cannot answer that yes or no because under the policies of the Department of Justice, to announce recusal on any
investigation would reveal the existence of that investigation and the top ethics officials have advised me I should not do so.
GOODLATTE: The time of gentleman has expired. The chair recognizes the gentleman from Wisconsin, Mr. Sensenbrenner for five minutes.
REP. JIM SENSENBRENNER (R), WISCONSIN: Thank you very much. Welcome, Mr. Attorney General. We're debating whether Section 702 should be
reauthorized and I want to talk about that issue.
At the beginning, let me show you a poster that my campaign committee put up on the University of Whitewater campus in the 2014 election during the
debate on the USA Liberty Act.
And it says the government knows what you did last night. The NSA has grabbed your phone calls, text, Facebook posts and emails. Jim
Sensenbrenner thinks that that is an outrageous invasion of your privacy and it shows that I passed the bill, and asked the students to vote for me,
My percentage on that campus went up 20 points from the previous election. Now were talking about many of the same issues in terms of section 702 and
the foreign intelligence surveillance act was designed to collect foreign intelligence, not domestic intelligence.
But in reality we know that a vast number of Americans communications are also collected. The committee took a great step in trying to balance
security and privacy last week when we reported up USA Liberty Act, which made significant changes to the program plan. Notably, this legislation
specifies two ways the government can query the information under Section 702.
[10:50:00] Either foreign intelligence or evidence of a crime. USA Liberty Act ensures that the government does not abuse 702 by requiring that
warrant be issued access content querying information for evidence of a crime.
Now, Attorney General Sessions, stated on several occasions that you believe that a warrant requirement would hinder the government's ability to
detect and stop terrorists, yet this bill already provides the government to move forward without a war and foreign intelligence in an emergency
Why can't the USA Liberty Act be the compromise? Can we allow the intelligence community to stop terrorists while protecting the
constitutional rights of Americans?
SESSIONS: Well, we can, and crisis rights of Americans should be protected. I know you worked on the Patriot Act when it came up with
Senator Hatch and Senator Leahy, and others. I know you are a champion of civil liberties.
So I would just say that we can do that -- the act, as written, as in law today has been approved by the courts. It is not my -- and been found to
be in violation of the law. And so that is first and foremost.
I know the committee has decided to put some additional restrictions on the way the act is conducted. We did not think that was lawfully required.
Congress didn't make his own decisions and will continue to be able to share our thoughts about how the legislation should be crafted.
SENSENBRENNER: Well, Mr. Attorney General, the day before the committee marked up this bill, the Justice Department was actively lobbying members
of the committee to oppose the measure, stating that it would dismantle Section 702.
This is a huge gamble because 702 expires at the end of the year. They have a very short timeline and I want to ask you whether yes or no
following my friend from Michigan, you are to risk the real possibility that this program will expire by insisting upon a clean reauthorization
without a sunset?
SESSIONS: No, we don't want to take that risk.
SENSENBRENNER: Will you commit to working with Congress and not against us to make sure that Section 702 was reauthorized either the way you wanted or
the way we wanted.
SESSIONS: Mr. -- I almost said Mr. Chairman, I know you held that office. Congress gets to dispose. We have to give our opinion. I believe that act
has passed and it has been reauthorized with legal even larger vote last time.
It's constitutional. I believe it works and I am worried about additional burdens, particularly a warrant requirement which going to be exceedingly
damaging to the effectiveness of the act.
We're willing to talk to you about some of the concerns that exist out there. Hopefully we can work our way through it and accept the concerns
and fix the concerns you have without going too far.
SENSENBRENNER: With all due respect, there is an emergency exemption in the USA Liberty Act as reported from the community and that should take
care of the problem, and yet people in your department were saying this was no good.
You know, I take your offer, you know, at face value and I will let you know if I hear off members of your department actively lobbying to defeat
the bill rather than to work something out. You'll back the bells of my time.
SESSIONS: I know you let us know, Mr. Sensenbrenner.
GOODLATTE: The chair recognizes the gentleman from New York, Mr. Nadler for five minutes.
REP. JERROLD NADLER (D), NEW YORK: Thank you. Mr. Attorney General, following up on the questions for Mr. Conyers, in your confirmation hearing
you said I believe the proper thing for me to do would be recuse myself.
Many questions involving these kinds of investigations that involve Secretary Clinton that were raised during the campaign or to be otherwise
connected to it, close quote. Do you stand by that statement, yes or no?
SESSIONS: Yes, thank you.
NADLER: Now I want to show you an image from March 31st, 2016 of a meeting with Trump campaign, National Security advisory committee, which you
chaired with yourself in attendance along with then candidate Donald Trump and Mr. George Papadopoulos.
Mr. Papadopoulos pled guilty on October 5th to making false statements to the FBI. The charging papers filed by Special Counsel Muller described the
March 31st meeting when you said, Papadopoulos told the group that he had connections and could help arrange a meeting between Donald Trump and
After the meeting, Mr. Papadopoulos continues to communicate with the Russian government on behalf of the Trump campaign and appears until
several senior campaign officials about it.
And here is the problem, on October 18th of this year, you said under oath in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee quote a continuing exchange of
information between Trump surrogates.
[10:55:00] And intermediaries for the Russian government did not happen, at least not to my knowledge and not with me. Senator Franken asked, you do
not believe the surrogates from the Trump campaign and communications with the Russians to which you responded, I did not and I am not aware of anyone
else that did, unquote. Now, we now know that one of the campaign head communications with the Russians, through Mr. Papadopoulos and others, until you seem to be aware
the fact at the time. So let's try and correct the earlier testimony now for the record, yes or no. Did you chair the March 31, 2016 meeting of the
national security advisory committee?
SESSIONS: I did chair that meeting.
NADLER: Did mister -- yes or no, did Mr. Papadopoulos mention his average to the Russian government during that meeting?
SESSIONS: He made some comments to that effect as I remember after having...
NADLER: I asked for yes or no, I don't have time.
SESSIONS: All right.
NADLER: There are the reports that you shut George down, unquote when he propose that meeting with Putin. Is this correct, yes or no?
SESSIONS: Yes. I push back -- I will just say it that way because it was...
NADLER: Yes? So you are obviously concerned by Mister Papadopoulos' connections and his possibly arranging a meeting with Putin? Now again,
yes or no. Did anyone else at that meeting, including then candidate Trump reacting anyway to what Mr. Papadopoulos had presented?
SESSIONS: I don't recall.
NADLER: OK. So your testimony is that neither Donald Trump nor anyone else at the meeting expressed any interest in meeting the Russian
president, or any concerns about communications between the campaign and the Russians.
SESSIONS: I don't recall.
NADLER: OK. Now we know from multiple sources, including the Papadopoulos guilty plea, Carter Page's interview with intelligence committee and Donald
Trump Jr.'s emails among others, that contrary to your earlier testimony.
There were continued efforts to communicate with the Russians on behalf of the Trump campaign. We have establish that you knew about at least some of
these efforts because he said concerned that you quote shut George down.
I want to know what you did with this information. Yes or no, after the March 31st meeting, did you take any steps to prevent Trump campaign
officials, advisors, employees from further outreach to the Russians?
SESSIONS: Mr. Nadler, let me just say it this way. I pushed back at that. You made statements that he did in fact at the meeting, I pushed back.
NADLER: We know that but did you -- after the meeting...
SESSIONS: No, I'm not -- I have to be able to answer. I can't -- I can't be able to put it in a position there. I can't explain.
SESSIONS: I'm going to be able to answer if I cannot answer complete.
NADLER: But you said you pushed back. We accept that after the meeting, did you take any further steps to prevent Trump campaign officials,
advisors or employees in further outreach of resources after you stopped it or pushed back at that meeting.
SESSIONS: What I want to say to you, is you alleged there were some further contacts later. I don't believe I had any knowledge or any further
contacts and I was not in regular contact with Mr. Papadopoulos.
NADLER: So your answer is no because you don't think there were any such context?
SESSIONS: I'm not aware of it.
NADLER: OK. So I was going to ask you a question, did raise the issue with various people but your answer is no.
SESSIONS: To the best of my recollection.
NADLER: OK, so your testimony today is you communicated with nobody in the campaign about this matter after March 31st meeting because nothing
SESSIONS: Repeat that.
NADLER: Your testimony therefore is that you communicated with nobody in the campaign about this matter after the March 31st meeting.
SESSIONS: I don't recall it.
NADLER: You don't recall? At some point, you became aware that the FBI was investigating potential links between the Trump campaign in the Russian
government. After you became aware of the investigation, did you ever discuss Mr. Papadopoulos' effort with anybody at the FBI?
SESSIONS: That I discussed the matter with the FBI?
SESSIONS: I asked them questions about what they may have...
NADLER: Did you discuss to Papadopoulos question with the FBI?
SESSIONS: I have not had in discussions with Mr. Mueller or his team, or the FBI concerning any factors with regard to...
NADLER: Nobody else to the FBI either?
NADLER: And at the Department of Justice?
NADLER: At the White House?
NADLER: Any member Congress?
SESSIONS: Well I do not know these conversations may have come up at some time, but not to obtain information. In any -- OK. With regard to your
broad question, I don't recall at this moment sitting here any such discussion...
GOODLATTE: The time of the gentleman has expired. We've got a lot of people waiting to ask questions and the chair recognizes the gentleman from
Ohio Mr. Chabot for five minutes.
REP. STEVE CHABOT (R), OHIO: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Attorney General, did your recusal from investigations related to the interference
by Russia in the 2016 presidential campaign, applied to any investigations regarding efforts by the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton
campaign to secretly find a scurrilous and widely discredited dossier on not candidate Donald Trump?
GOODLATTE: Mr. Chabot, anything that arises in this nature on that may be or may not be connected to the - my --