Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), whose questioning of Attorney General Jeff Sessions in his January confirmation hearing kicked off a chain of events that ultimately led to the appointment of a special counsel, on Thursday had some more pointed questions for Sessions.
Franken included his questions in a scathing letter to Sessions after court documents unsealed Monday revealed that President Donald Trump’s former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos in March 2016 floated the idea of setting up a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
According to several reports, Sessions was present at the meeting when Papadopoulos made the suggestion, though Sessions previously denied being aware of any communications between members of Trump’s campaign and the Russian government. Papadopoulos claimed he had “connections” that could help arrange the meeting between Trump and Putin.
“Once again, developments in the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election have brought to light evidence that you failed to tell the truth about your interactions with Russian operatives during the campaign, as well as your awareness of Russian contacts by other members of the Trump campaign team,” Franken wrote.
He called it “another example in an alarming pattern” in which Sessions “apparently failed to tell the truth, under oath, about the Trump team’s contacts with agents of Russia—a hostile foreign power that interfered in the 2016 election.”
“We must get to the bottom of what happened so that we can prevent it from happening again,” Franken wrote. “I am deeply troubled that this newest revelation strongly suggests that the Senate—and the American public—cannot trust your word.”
He asked Sessions to respond to his questions by next Friday, Nov. 10.
CNN reported on Wednesday that Sessions firmly rejected the idea of a meeting between Trump and Putin when it was floated during a campaign meeting in March 2016. At that time, Sessions was the chairman of Trump’s national security team and a Republican senator.
During his January confirmation hearing, however, Sessions claimed he was “not aware” of any communications between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government.
“I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment on that,” he claimed.
Sessions recused himself from the federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election after the Washington Post reported, and Sessions confirmed, that he actually met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the 2016 campaign.
That recusal, and Trump’s decision to fire James Comey as head of the FBI, led directly to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation.
NBC News reported on Thursday, citing an unnamed source familiar with Sessions’ thinking, that Sessions now similarly recalls that he rejected Papadopoulos’ proposal to set up a meeting between Trump and Putin.
“The March 31 comments by this Papadopoulos person did not leave a lasting impression,” the unnamed source told NBC News. “As far as Sessions seemed to be concerned, when he shut down this idea of Papadopoulos engaging with Russia, that was the end of it and he moved the meeting along to other issues.”
That same source later claimed to NBC News that it was not actually clear whether Sessions remembered anything.
Read Franken’s letter to Sessions:
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