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Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he has “no reason to doubt” the five women who have accused Alabama Republican Roy Moore of sexual assault or misconduct when they were teens and he was a young DA in his 30s. Moore, now 70, is the GOP nominee to replace Sessions in the United States Senate.
Asked during a hearing in front of the House Judiciary Committee to weigh in on the Moore scandal, in which he has been charged with making sexual advances against teenage girls, Sessions said, “I have no reason to doubt these young women.
As the former Republican senator from Alabama with friends and connections to the Moore campaign, Sessions said he has been advised to recuse himself from all decision-making in the Moore case. Asked whether the Department of Justice will investigate the charges should Moore be elected to the Senate in the Dec. 12 contest, Sessions said, “We will do our duty.”
Sessions’ comments are the latest blow to Moore, a vocal Christian conservative who is facing pressure to drop out of the race from GOP leaders including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Earlier Tuesday, Ryan said the allegations are “credible” and that Moore should “step aside.”
“If he cares about the values and the people he claims to care about, then he should step aside,” Ryan said.
Sessions’ comments about Moore came during stiff questioning from House Democrats eager to establish what Sessions knew about Trump campaign officials’ contact with the Russians and what did or didn’t do with that knowledge.
Jogging Sessions’ memory on Russia
Sessions, right from the get-go during his opening statement, addressed the elephant in the room: Russia.
In October, unsealed documents revealed that George Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser had pled guilty of lying to the FBI about his attempts to establish contacts and meetings with Russian officials.
Papadopoulos admitted to a meeting that took place March 2016 in the Trump hotel which he said was chaired by Sessions. Papadopoulos, in that meeting, said he urged Trump to meet in person with Putin.
Sessions had never mentioned this meeting before, even when congressional investigators asked him whether he was aware of anyone from the Trump campaign trying to make inroads with Russian officials.
But now Sessions’ memory has been jogged, said he did recall the meeting after all. The details are just still a little hazy.
“I would like to address recent news reports regarding meetings during the campaign attended by George Papadopoulos and Carter Page, among others,” said Sessions during. “Frankly, I had no recollection of this until I saw these news reports.”
“I do now recall the March 2016 meeting at Trump Hotel that Mr. Papadopoulos attended, but I have no clear recollection of the details of what he said during that meeting,” he said.
Sessions previously landed in hot water for failing to disclose two contacts he had with the Russian ambassador while he was acting as a surrogate for the Trump campaign.
Lies under oath?
Sessions was asked whether he had lied under oath in prior testimony on the Trump campaign’s contact with Russian nationals.
“I will not accept and reject accusations that I have ever lied under oath. That is a lie,” Sessions said. “As I said before, my story has never changed. I have always told the truth, and I have answered every question to the best of my recollection, as I will continue to do today.”
Sessions also offered a simple explanation for why his memory could appear patchy in places; he was tired.
“All of you have been in a campaign,” said Sessions. “But most of you have not participated in a presidential campaign. And none of you had a part in the Trump campaign.”
“It was a brilliant campaign in many ways. But it was a form of chaos every day from day one,” he said. “We traveled all the time, sometimes to several places in one day. Sleep was in short supply. And I was still a full-time Senator keeping a very full schedule during this time.”
Sessions testified that the Department of Justice is assessing whether to appoint a special counsel to investigate corruption allegations against Hillary Clinton.
Trump has been increasingly vocal in his frustration that the DOJ isn’t taking on the Clintons. He’s referred to Sessions as his “beleaguered” attorney general, and criticized him for not pursuing an investigation into Clinton sooner.
“Virtually every Clinton-related matter that the President complains about has been well-litigated and completely debunked,” said Michigan Rep. John Conyers, a Democrat, during Tuesday’s hearing. “To quote former Attorney General Michael Mukasey: “‘putting political opponents in jail is something that we don’t do here.”
“In a functioning democracy, is it common for the leader to order the criminal justice system to retaliate against political opponents?” Conyers asked Sessions.
“I would say that the DOJ can never be used to retaliate politically against opponents,” Sessions replied.
Conyers asked whether Trump’s recent tweet storm about allegations surrounding a 2010 deal involving uranium in the U.S., Clinton Foundation money and Russian nuclear agency, was improper, given that his comments could ultimately influence an impending investigation.
“He should take great care in those issues,” Sessions said. “I don’t know exactly the facts of what you’re raising… [but] he can not improperly influence an investigation.”
Conyers also asked Sessions whether he would recuse himself from any future investigations involving Clinton.
“I cannot answer that ‘yes or no’ because under the policy, to announce recusal would reveal the existence of that investigation,” said Sessions “top ethics officials have advised me not to do so.”
“You said you would recuse yourself from the Clinton investigations,” pressed New York Rep. Jerrold Lewis Nadler, referring to Sessions’ sworn testimony in his confirmation hearing. “You stand by that?:
“Yes,” Sessions replied.
This story was originally published Nov. 14 at 11:38 a.m. EST.