Attorney General Jeff Sessions faced lawmakers on Capitol Hill in a new round of questioning which is sure to revolve around his knowledge of Russian contacts made by the Trump campaign in the lead up and fallout of the 2016 presidential election.
Billed as a House Judiciary Committee hearing on oversight of the Justice Department, Sessions was mainly probed about his knowledge of communications between Trump associates and the Russian government during the campaign, in light of recent grand jury indictments against two Trump campaign aides.
During his opening statement Mr. Sessions said that he did not recall the March 31,2016 national security meeting with Trump foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos and others until news reports surface.
Meanwhile he did not dispute another former Trump campaign foreign policy advisor's account - Carter Page - about a discussion they had about Mr. Page taking a trip to Moscow he said that he did not recall the conversation.
Mr. Sessions added, "I have been asked to remember details from a year ago, such as who I saw on what day, in what meeting, and who said what to when. In all of my testimony, I can only do my best to answer all of your questions as I understand them and to the best of my memory. But I will not accept and reject accusations that I have ever lied. That is a lie... 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."
Mr. Sessions was also asked about the controversy surrounding Judge Roy Moore who is running for his former Senate seat. The Attorney General said that he had no reason not to believe the women who are accusing him of sexual misconduct but would not go so far as to say that Mr. Moore would drop out of the race.
Follow along for live updates from the hearing below:
Sessions hearing to begin momentarily
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has arrived to the House hearing to provide his testimony before lawmakers.
CBS News' Walt Cronkite reports that Sessions ignored reporter's questions about Alabama Republican senate candidate Roy Moore and his old Senate seat when he entered the Capitol Tuesday morning.
Goodlatte slams Obama-era DOJ
House Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte opens the hearing by calling out former Attorney's General Loretta Lynch and Eric Holder for not leading the DOJ properly.
Goodlatte slammed Lynch's testimony before lawmakers as lacking transparency, saying her DOJ was "beyond disappointment" and a "disservice to the American people."
He charged Sesssions with doing more to "correct improper political engagement" by the DOJ and to "impartially administer justice."
Goodlatte warned Sessions that he will also face questions regarding lawmaker's continuing probes into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Ranking member Conyers wants "clarity" on Russia claims
Ranking member John Conyers says he hopes that Sessions will provide some clarification on his prior remarks before the Senate on his contacts and communications with Russian entities over the course of the 2016 campaign. He called his past answers to lawmakers "incomplete."
He also said that he expects Sessions to assure the House that the DOJ is "weathering nearly daily attacks" by President Trump and that "no office being used to pressure the presidents political enemies."
Sessions talks Papadopoulos, Page Russia contacts
In prepared remarks for Sessions' opening statement to the House, the attorney general largely stayed to the topic of hailing the successes of the Trump administration, but did acknowledge his past statements to lawmakers on Capitol Hill, saying his answers on Russian contacts has "never changed."
"I have always told the truth, and I have answered every question as I understood them and to the best of my recollection, as I will continue to do today," said Sessions.
Sessions said he at first had "no recollection" of his meetings on the campaign with Trump aides George Papadopoulous and Carter Page until he saw news reports, but says he does now recall a March 2016 meeting at the Trump Hotel that Papadopoulos had attended.
"I have no clear recollection of the details of what he said during that meeting. After reading his account, and to the best of my recollection, I believe that I wanted to make clear to him that he was not authorized 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 would gladly have reported it," said Sessions.
Sessions provided similar statements as to his knowledge of Carter Page on the campaign, saying while he does not challenge Page's telling of contacts with Russians, he has "no memory of his presence" at various meetings.
Sessions also appeared to jab the handling of the Trump campaign, calling it a "form of chaos every day from day one."
With stern delivery, Sessions said that he would not accept accusations of lying under oath, saying that in all appearances before lawmakers, he has conducted himself "honorably and in a manner consistent with the high standards and responsibilities of the Office of Attorney General."
"I spent 15 years in that department, I love that department, I honor that department and will do my best to be your Attorney General," a more emotional Sessions exclaimed.
"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," he added.
Sessions on special counsel investigations
"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 these matters you have raised. And we will make such decisions without regard to politics, ideology, or bias," said Sessions, alluding to a possible investigation to look into Clinton Foundation dealings and an Obama-era uranium deal.
Asked by Chairman Goodlatte about conducting an investigation into the mishandling of classified information by Hillary Clinton after former FBI Director James Comey said he would not pursue charges, Sessions said an investigation would "be done without political influence and be done correctly and properly."
Sessions says he hasn't been "improperly influenced" by Trump
In a line of questioning by ranking member Coyners, Sessions maintains that has not and will not be improperly influenced politically in his role as the nation's highest criminal investigator.
When asked if the president should make public comments that might influence any pending investigations, Sessions said that while the president should "take great care in those issues, a president "can not improperly influence an investigation."
He quickly defended Mr. Trump as being "bold and direct about what he says" and that the American people voted for that.
"The president speaks his mind," Sessions said. "The people elected him, but we do our duty every day based on the law and facts."
Asked if it is common for the leader of the country to order criminal justice system to retaliate against his political opponents, Sessions replied, "I would say the DOJ can never be used to retaliate politically against opponents and that would be wrong." He added, "The answer stands for itself I guess."
Sessions corrects record on Papadopoulos meeting
After showing a photo of the March 2016 meeting involving both Sessions and Papadopoulos at a national security advisory meeting, Sessions offers to correct the record on his past comments regarding the meeting and Russian contacts.
Sessions confirmed that he did indeed chair the March 31st meeting and that he had "pushed back" against Papadopoulos after his offer to propose a meeting with Russian President Vladmir Putin.
He added that he didn't recall if Mr. Trump or any campaign officials had "expressed interest" in meeting with Putin or Russian officials following Papadopoulous' proposal at the meeting.
Sessions on Michael Flynn dealings
Asked about his knowledge of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and his dealings over the course of the campaign, Sessions said that he had never communicated any information about his meeting with former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak with Flynn during the campaign.
He also said that he did not recall any conversations with Flynn of discussing the possibility of Mr. Trump and Trump surrogates meeting with Russian officials.
As to Flynn's dealings with the Turkish government before and after the 2016 campaign, Sessions maintains that he did not believe he was aware of that information at the time.
Sessions on Roy Moore
Sessions says that while the DOJ will evaluate every case of sexual misconduct allegations against candidate Roy Moore, "this case would normally be a state case," he concedes.
"I have no reason to doubt these young women," Sessions said on the five women who have accused Moore of sexual misconduct.
He said that he has spoken with "ethics people" at the DOJ regarding the race for his old senate seat, saying that he was advised the "attorney general should not be involved in this campaign."
"I have friends in the campaign, I have steadfastly adhered to that," he added.
Asked further if cases against Moore would be referred for a federal review, Sessions replied, "We will do our duty."
Committee takes short recess
The hearing breaks for a short 10 minute recess and will return shortly.
Sessions won't comment on firing Mueller, pardons
Sessions maintains that as attorney general, he can't "express an opinion" on if Mr. Trump has the legal authority to and should fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
He said while investigations have to be done without fear of politics or bias, "the attorney general shouldn't be giving legal opinions from the seat of his britches."
Asked if the president has the power to pardon and can pardon his campaign aides Papadopoulos and Manafort, Sessions said he would not comment on the question but that there is "no doubt about" the president having the legal power to issue a pardon.
Sessions on keeping campaign promise to investigate Clinton
Rep. Luis Gutierrez asked Sessions if he felt an obligation to fulfill Mr. Trump's campaign promise to "lock Hillary up" Sessions would only say that he would comply with any new special counsel investigations, and that he would fulfill his duty as attorney general.
"The president makes decisions, and if it's lawful, we defend it," Sessions added.
House takes recess for votes
House members take another brief recess for votes. The hearing will resume when they return.
House lawmakers' line of questioning comes to a close after nearly 5 and a half hours of testimony on behalf of Sessions. The hearing touched on a wide variety of issues currently occupying the DOJ's time, but most revolved around Sessions' knowledge of Russian contacts made by the Trump campaign.