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Sessions: "I Reject Accusations That I Have Ever Lied"; Sessions: "I Have Always Told The Truth" On Russia Contacts; Sessions: I Recalled Papadopoulos Meeting After Media Reports; Sessions: Justice Dept. Will Not Be Infected By Politics; Sessions: I Have No Reason To Doubt Roy Moore's Accusers. Aired 12:30-1p ET
Aired November 14, 2017 - 12:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[12:30:02] JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes.
REP. KAREN BASS (D), CALIFORNIA: So can you tell me what that term means to you? Do you believe that there is a movement of African- Americans that identify themselves as black identity extremists and what does that movement do?
SESSIONS: It would be interesting to see the conclusions of that report, but I'm aware that there are groups that do have an extraordinary commitment to the racial identity. And some have transformed themselves even into violent activists.
BASS: Are you aware of white organizations that do this as well? Given the white supremacy as well documented, well researched such as the neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, et cetera, are they White Identity Extremists?
SESSIONS: I didn't follow that question. Please, again.
BASS: Is there a term or a report on White Identity Extremists? You mentioned you were familiar with black people who identify with the racial identity.
SESSIONS: Yes. But it's not coming to me at this moment.
BASS: Not coming to you?
SESSIONS: It's --
BASS: Certainly a group such as the Ku Klux Klan.
SESSIONS: Yes. And then the skinhead movements, but there is a racial identity white movements that have been identified for --
BASS: Well has the FBI done a report on White Identity Extremists that are likely motivated to target to law enforcement officers?
SESSIONS: I'm not aware of that.
BASS: OK. Are you aware of a group called the Sovereign Citizens?
SESSIONS: I've heard that group, yes. BASS: And I believe that the Sovereign Citizens is primarily a white organization that absolutely has targeted police officers and killed police officers. You are not aware of that?
SESSIONS: I'm not aware of all that crimes, but I know there are group that's known to have violent tendencies.
BASS: Could you name an African-American organization that have committed violent acts against police officers. Could you name one today? In this report, they name organizations from 30, 40 years ago. But can you name of one today that has targeted police officers in a violent manner?
SESSIONS: I believe I could, but I would want to be to confirm that and submit it to you in writing. But I believe we had within the last year or so four police officers killed by a group that some have described as extremists.
BASS: So what happened is that there have been a couple of incidences in which African-Americans did kill police officers were not associated with a black organization. And so one, for example, in Baton Rouge was associated with sovereign citizens which is primarily a white group. So you should know that there's a lot of concern in the community especially from organizations such as Black Lives Matter. By the way, would you consider Black Lives Matter a black identity extremist group?
SESSIONS: I'm not able to comment on that. I have not so declared it.
BASS: So you should know that a lot of activists around the country are very concerned that we're getting ready to repeat a very sad chapter of our history where people who are rightfully protesting what they consider to be an injustice in their community which is their relationship with police officers are now being targeted and labeled as extremists and are going through periods of surveillance and harassment. And so I would like to know what is your department going to do to protect the rights of average citizens to protest if they have a concern about police officers.
SESSIONS: This department will not unlawfully target people.
BASS: So if that's the case then, I would ask that you review this report, black identity extremists likely motivated to target law enforcement officers because I personally don't believe that any such organizations exist. The organizations that are referred to in this report are organizations from decades ago. And so I would like to know what will you do to essentially roll back what is listed in this report? It's not accurate. Sir?
SESSIONS: We will look at the report. I actually would be interested in reading it. But they usually do an excellent job, objective and fair on those kinds of reports.
BASS: OK. Well -- BOB GOODLATTE, CHAIRMAN OF THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON JUDICIARY: Time of the gentle woman has expired. The chair recognizes gentleman from South Carolina, Mr. Gowdy for five minutes.
REP. TREY GOWDY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, thank you Mr. Attorney General. I want to cover a couple of area, but I want to start with something that's very important to me. I think it's important to all people this country of good conscious. Irrespective of political ideation and that's the independence of the Department of Justice.
And in my judgment, 2016 and 2017 have been challenging years for the Department of Justice. You know, the decision to charge someone carries with it multiple layers of review. There's a grand jury, there's a petit jury, there's a trial judge, there are post trial motions. There is appellate courts, there are courts of Habeas corpus and then there's the media and then there's Congress.
[12:35:02] But the decision not to charge someone does not carry with it the same corresponding layers of review. But in some instances it's every bit as important to understand why law enforcement did not do something and why prosecutors did not do something. I'm not interested relitigating the FBI's decision not to charge Secretary Clinton. That decision has been made, it's been explained and I'm not interested in relitigating it.
I am, however, interested in reviewing 2016 and 2017 with respect to the Department of Justice. And Mr. Attorney General, there was a time when my colleagues on the other side of the aisle were interested in having some these questions answered as well. It wasn't a year ago that some of my Democratic friends wanted Jim Comey investigated and prosecuted for a Hatch Act violation. That was 12 months ago.
And it was absurd then and it's absurd now, but what's not absurd is when my Democratic colleagues asked why did you decide to publicize one investigation, but not another. Why did you decide to appropriate a decision away from the Justice Department which is very unusual for the head of the FBI to serve as both the investigator and the decision-maker? Just like Republicans wanted to know, Mr. Comey did you reach your conclusions before the end of the investigation? Did you make decisions whether to charge or not to charge before you interviewed all of the witnesses?
These are questions that to me go to the core of whether or not the department can be respected separate and aside from politics. I mean, I guess that certain departments are just inherently political, but the Department of Justice should not be. And so I tell you that off front.
The Chairman Goodlatte and I are going to be looking into the decisions made in 2016 and 2017. And I think I can speak for him and know I can speak for myself. My motivation is a love for that department. And a love for the concept of blind justice that doesn't care whether it's an even numbered year or an odd numbered year.
And to the extent that there were decisions made including the decision to write a public letter in October of last year and follow that up with another public letter in November. Those are legitimate questions and I hope that the department will cooperate both with respect to making witnesses available, but also with respect to documents. So Congress can better understand the decisions that were made and not made and restore some modicum of trust that all people, whether they agreed with the decisions or not at least understand why they were made.
You know, Mr. Conyers asked you whether or not it was appropriate for the President --
SESSIONS: To make that respond, it's briefer --
GOWDY: Yes, sir.
SESSIONS: You're familiar with the inspector general and they make public their investigations. And several to the matters and involve the FBI are under full and intense review by the inspector general and perhaps they can, under their rules of disclosure, perhaps you can inquire more about how that's ongoing. But I'm not able to give the details to you at this time.
That's a serious matter. It's in my response to the chairman of yesterday.
GOWDY: Well, I didn't intend to ask you to respond to it because -- you're right, Mr. Horowitz is looking into it. In fact, I'll met with Mr. Horowitz this afternoon, not in that capacity but in another. And you're right, at some point he is going to let Congress know what he found. But that has not absolved us of our responsibility to also look into it.
Mr. Conyers asked you whether or not it was appropriate for the President to weigh in on an ongoing investigation, and of course the answer to that is no. It is not appropriate. It's not appropriate in 2017. It wasn't appropriate when President Obama did it in the IRS targeting scandal.
It wasn't appropriate when President Obama did it in the ongoing investigation into Hillary Clinton's server. It is never appropriate for a president to tell a Department of Justice what outcome it should reach. I just wish my friends on the other side had the same outrage when President Obama did it as they do now. I mean, I guess that's what I'm -- this will be my last question to you.
You're nominated by a president. You are approved by a Senate but yet you work for a virtue, you work for a blind folded woman holding a set of scales. And that's what makes our culture different. How do you restore people's trust, Republicans and Democrats, confidence in a Department of Justice when it seems like different rules apply depending on who is in power.
GOODLATTE: The time of the gentleman has expired. The Attorney General in the Committee --.
SESSIONS: Well, it's a good question, an important question. We intend to do our work according to the established principles of the Department of Justice. We will not be infected by politics or bias.
[12:40:14] We will make only we believe are right and just and we're not going to use the department to unlawfully advance political agenda. We are going to enforce the laws of this country effectively as Congress has passed them. I am determined that when the years go by and people will say this Department of Justice did not crumble. It stayed firm and true to the great principals that I was taught in the 15 years I served in the Department of Justice.
Two and a half as an assistant and 12 as United States attorney and looking up to the attorney general is somehow so far removed from me that it was beyond recognition. But now I'm in that position. I think I understand the gravity of it. I think I understand the importance of responding to your question. And we'll do our best.
GOWDY: Thank you.
GOODLATTE: The chair recognizes the gentlemen from Louisiana, Mr. Richmond for five minutes.
REP. CEDRIC RICHMOND (D), LOUISIANA: Mr. General, I have the honor of serving as chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. You were not there but I'm sure you aware if you're not aware I'm telling to myself. Did I testified against your nomination and I did so because I was afraid that we would go back to a time when discrimination was rampant and that diversity was not appreciated and that the right to vote for minorities and African-Americans would be further -- more obstacles would be set up.
And I listen to your opening statement and I listen to your remarks. Since then and you talked about voter ID. The V.C. case which in Texas ruled that the Texas voter identification law had discriminatory portions against African-Americans. The district court ruled that way. The appellate court affirmed that ruling and then you withdraw from the case after two courts ruled that it was discriminatory. How does that mesh and then argued on the side of Texas. How does that mesh with the right to make sure that African-Americans had unfettered access to the voting polls?
SESSIONS: Congressman, the way that happened was that Texas had passed a voter ID law that the courts did not approve but struck down. Election was coming up, I believe. And the court approved a voter ID procedure that they approved for that election. And the Texas legislature then repealed the previous law that had been found to be unconstitutional or improper and passed the one that the court had approved. So we felt that the voter I'd law has been approved. A proper voter ID law is constitutional and we believe that one is constitutional and that's why the position was changed.
RICHMOND: And also in judging the Department of Justice, in terms of nominating judges to the bench, our information tells us that out of all the judges that have been nominated, I think 91 percent have been white males. Does that foster diversity?
SESSIONS: I'm not aware of the numbers. But you should look for quality candidates and I think diversity is a matter that has significance.
RICHMOND: Well the National Bar Association could recommend and has recommended a number of African-American and other minority attorneys who are qualified. So let me ask you and if you don't know the answer to this, just let me know that you'll get me the information. But how many African-Americans do you have on your senior staff?
SESSIONS: I do not have senior staff member at this time that's an African-American. In Alabama, I participate in recommending an African-American judge and had judges before. And --
RICHMOND: We are talking about this administration though. Of all of the U.S. attorneys that have been nominated or confirmed, how many have been African-American?
SESSIONS: One in Alabama that I have recommended that I knew. I believe he has been confirmed.
RICHMOND: I believe it's only that one. Out of all of the special agents in charge of FBI bureaus around the country, how many are African-American?
[12:45:03] SESSIONS: I do not know.
RICHMOND: Would you get that for me. And here's the jest of what I'm saying. For a lot of people who objectively look from the back like I do and many people where I live, the question is whether we're going towards inclusion and diversity or whether we're going back. So I applaud the President for his approach to the opioid epidemic which everyone in this room is concerned about. We are losing over 100 people a day.
But your decision to reverse Eric Holder's Smart on Crime initiative goes back to the crack tough on crime. And I think you specifically said that you wanted U.S. attorneys to charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offenses and sentences. But with opioids, we are treating it as a mental health crisis. And the question becomes from the outside looking in is because of who the opioid crisis is affecting as opposed to crack. Our answer to crack cocaine was mandatory and minimum sentences.
So the question is how does an outside observe reconcile, how we treated crack and which led to mass incarceration which now with the epidemic we're losing thousands and thousands of people a year. And we are treating it with hugs and kisses and treatment as opposed to tough on crime, lock them up. How do I reconcile that and not conclude that the only difference is race and income?
SESSIONS: Well, I would say that the federal court focuses on serious offenders not users. We talk about international drug cartels. We talk about distribution networks, serious gangs, MS-13. We focus aggressively on that.
But the PSN on new reinvigorated crime problem focuses more and I've been convinced of this on leading criminals in our neighborhood. And the federal government will not seek mass incarceration so much as we will be focusing on identifying the people who really are the driving force, maybe sucking other young people into crime that would never have been brought in there if they hadn't had this leadership on drive. It is worked in New York. It is work in other agencies. And I think it will work here.
And Congressman, I would note that the average federal sentence in the last three or four years has dropped 19 percent. And the federal percent population is down 14 percent. While we are beginning to see a spike in homicides, the likes of which we haven't seen since the 1960s.
GOODLATTE: The gentleman has expired. The chair recognizes gentleman from Texas, Mr. Farenthold for five minutes.
REP. BLAKE FARENTHOLD (R), TEXAS: Thank you Mr. Chairman. Mr. Attorney General, thank you for being here. Before I got to Congress, I was a computer consultant. So I have a little -- I sometimes dive into the nerdier end of things.
Incursion into the DNC servers is back into the news recently. My question is can you tell us if anyone at the DOJ, FBI or any other federal law enforcement agency has been able to take a look and forensically examine that server to determine who hacked it whether it was the Russians, an inside job or somebody else?
SESSIONS: You said the DS --
SESSIONS: DNC. I'm not able to comment on that. It's an ongoing investigation and --
FARENTHOLD: I appreciate that. We've also talked a little bit today about the FISA court and 702 and surveillance. And one of the things that I don't think has been completely answered is why does the DOJ think it's so problematic to require a warrant from the FISA court before acts or any court -- before accessing or disseminating the contents of communications that are related to foreign intelligence that deal with American citizens?
SESSIONS: The way -- maybe I should explain this. When you have a warrant or you have a surveillance on a foreign individual that may be connected to terrorism or any foreign individual, you listen to who they talk to. And if they call an American and you have a terrorist on the phone in Syria, you want to know who the American is.
FARENTHOLD: But the USA Liberty Act includes exceptions for emergencies and for individuals who are recently (ph) believed to be engaged in international terrorism or foreign or furthering their goals.
SESSIONS: Well, I'm not sure I understand that.
FARENTHOLD: This is an exception for dealing with emergencies and people who are believed to be terrorists. It's the whole -- it's -- SESSIONS: All right. Well, let me just say this. So if we get a lawful intercept from a federal judge of a Mafia person in New York, he is not like there to be talking to many people not in the United States.
[12:50:13] And we are listening to the conversations of the people he talks to and the American citizens. And if they talk about a crime, you can use that evidence against him and you don't have to have a separate warrant to access it. We're talking about in 702 -- I hope you will think through minute it with me now. So you lawfully obtained this information. You can do it by hand in the old days, but now the computers do much of the work for us. So you know the names of the people that may be involved in this activity. And you can access those records just like you could access bank records that did not --
FARENTHOLD: (INAUDIBLE) in any other way you would have to gotten a warrant to get that --
SESSIONS: Well, the problem with the warrant is -- let's say this. Let's say you have information from an airport that somebody wants to learn to fly a plane, but does not want to learn how to land the plane, as we saw one time.
FARENTHOLD: And you could (ph) be in court, you know, more than in a matter of hours.
SESSIONS: That does not give probable cause to search -- tap that person's phone.
FARENTHOLD: I got a couple of other questions.
SESSIONS: OK, I'm sorry.
FARENTHOLD: I appreciate your answer on it. I do want to talk, in the last Congress we pass an enacted into all of the stock advertising victims of Exploitation Act to the Save Act. This legislation makes it a criminal offense to advertise for the commercial sex acts. Does the DOJ use this provision to prosecutes online sex traffickers or websites they use and if not, why not?
SESSIONS: I'm not sure about that, Congressman. I have to -- maybe I can get back to you on that.
FARENTHOLD: I would appreciate that.
SESSIONS: Thank you.
FARENTHOLD: All right, I've got a couple more here. I want to hit it, but I'm going to kind of take a step back and look at the big picture. I'm a lawyer I went to law school. (INAUDIBLE) considered the attorney general to be the people's attorney. And I feel like over the past few years under previous attorney generals, then the attorney generals have been more of the president's attorney rather than the people's attorney. Can you tell me what you are doing in office to restore the confidence in the American people both in the office of the attorney general and agencies like the FBI which most people used to have a high respect for, but I believe that level of respect and trust has dropped dramatically in recent times?
SESSIONS: These are serious questions. I believe as you get to know the FBI Director Chris Wray, the new director, you will find him to be a man of high intelligence, great integrity, great character, and great capability. Clearly one of the nation's great lawyers on private practice, but many years in the Department of Justice as a prosecutor working with the FBI agents. That's one thing we've got. I can tell you I have great confidence in him.
My deputy, 27 years are professional that I chose to be my premier deputy. My associate attorney general likewise is a woman of the highest character in academic excellence and experience in the department. We are setting a tone of professionalism everyday in what we do.
So I think that's something we need to do. There are some matters that do need to be completed. Inspector general is doing investigation of some significant, is in my letter. I believe you received a copy involving the FBI and the allegations that are there. We intend to make sure that no agency of the government, not just the FBI is not following the kind of disciplines and practices they should follow.
So I guess I would say to you what we do. We are not going to be driven by politics. We're going to try to do the right thing. And I believe that time will show that to be true.
FARENTHOLD: I see my time is expired. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
GOODLATTE: The chair recognizes gentleman from New York, Mr. Jeffries for five minutes.
REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D), NEW YORK: Mr. Sessions, I have a copy of the transcript of your testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in October. You stated under oath, I don't recall in some form or fashion 29 times, is that correct?
SESSIONS: I have no idea.
JEFFRIES: I have a copy of the transcript of your testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee in June. You stated on the oath, I don't recall in some form or fashion approximately 36 times, is that correct?
SESSIONS: I don't know.
JEFFRIES: In your testimony today, you stated I don't recall at least 20 times, is that fair to say?
[12:55:06] SESSIONS: I have no idea. JEFFRIES: Now, on October 4th, 2016 during a TV interview with Lou Dobbs, you criticized Hillary Clinton for telling FBI investigators I can't remember approximately 35 times. You also stated during that Lou Dobbs interview that the intentional failure to remember can constitute perjury. Mr. Attorney General, do you still believe that the intentional failure to remember can constitute a criminal act?
SESSIONS: If it's an act to deceive, yes.
JEFFRIES: OK. Now you testified in January that you had no contact with Russian operatives during the Trump campaign. Earlier today, you testified that your story has, quote, never changed. Is that correct? That was your testimony earlier today. Did your story has never changed, correct?
SESSIONS: I believe that's fair to say.
SESSIONS: We might could -- we've added things that I did not recall at the time.
SESSIONS: So my statement at the time was my best recollection of the circumstances, and as things are brought up --
JEFFRIES: Reclaiming my time, I understand.
SESSIONS: All right.
JEFFRIES: So, you now acknowledge meeting with the Ambassador Kislyak during the Republican National Convention, correct?
SESSIONS: I remember I made a speech. He came up to me afterwards. I was standing in front of the speaker program and did chat with him.
JEFFRIES: OK. And you also --
SESSIONS: Filter (ph) not a meeting. It was just an encounter at that time.
JEFFRIES: OK. And you also met with the ambassador in September of 2016 in your office as you've acknowledged?
SESSIONS: Yes, for an appointment. I had two senior staffers, both full colonels in the United States army retired. And after the meeting with --
JEFFRIES: Now you testified -- I'm sorry, you testified in June before the Senate Intelligence Committee that you had not heard even a whisper about possible Russian involvement in the Trump campaign. Yet, we understand you attended this March 31st meeting with George Papadopoulos talked about potential communications with Russian operatives. But also according to your third quarter 2016 FEC filing, you hosted a Trump campaign dinner meeting on June 30th, 2016 at the Capitol Hill Club is that right?
SESSIONS: That's correct.
JEFFRIES: And your Senate re-election campaign paid for that meeting, is that right?
SESSIONS: I think that may be so.
JEFFRIES: OK. And Carter Page and George Papadopoulos both attended that June 30th meeting, correct?
SESSIONS: That has been reported.
JEFFRIES: And at that meeting Carter Page told you that he was going to Moscow in a few days, is that right?
SESSIOS: And he --
JEFFRIES: Thank you. Thank you.
SESSIONS: And he said it was a brief meeting. As he was walking out the door, I don't recall that conversation, but I'm not able to dispute it.
JEFFRIES: Understood. Reclaiming my time I've got limited time available.
SESSIONS: That is not -- does that establish some sort of improper contact?
JEFFRIES: I think you understand. I think you understand that.
SESSIONS: He's not Russian either, and you know.
JEFFRIS: You want to sir, I get to ask the questions you provide the answers in this capacity. You're no longer in the United State Senate. You voted in 1999 to remove Bill Clinton from on office on charges of perjury, correct?
SESSIONS: That is correct. There are other charges I voted for impeachment, yes.
JEFFRIES: Yes, I understand. To remove him actually impeachment in the House. In connection with that vote to remove President Clinton from office, you gave this speech on the Senate floor February 29th, 1999. And in it you acknowledged that while serving as U.S. attorney, you once prosecuted a young police officer who lied in a deposition.
And in that speech you decided to prosecute that young police officer even though he corrected his testimony. Now you testified under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee in January you subsequently corrected that testimony in a March 6th written submission and have been forced repeatedly to come back to the Senate and now the House to clarify. When explaining your vote on the Senate floor to remove Bill Clinton from office, you stated that you refused to hold a president accountable to a different standard than the young police officer who you prosecuted.
Let me be clear. The attorney general of the United States of America should not be held to a different standard than the young police officer whose life you ruined by prosecuting him for perjury. I yield back.
GOODLATTE: The gentlemen may respond if he chooses to.
SESSIONS: Mr. Jeffries, nobody, nobody. Not you or anyone else should be prosecuted. Not me or to accused of perjury for answering the question the way I --