Sessions: It’s good to be with you. Welcome to the Department
of Justice. Jody [Hunt], thank you for being with me. He is my Chief of Staff.
And Jody has been almost 20 years in the Department of Justice.
Let me share a few thoughts.
First, about the comments I made to the
committee that have been said to be incorrect in thoughts. Let me be
clear: I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian
intermediaries about the Trump campaign. And the idea that I was part of
a (quote), “continuing exchange of information” during the campaign
between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government
is totally false.
That is the question that Senator Franken asked me at the hearing.1
that's what got my attention. As he noticed -- noted, it was the first
-- just breaking news. And it got my attention. And that is the question
I responded to.
I did not respond by referring to the two meetings, one very brief after
a speech, and one with two of my senior staffers, professional staffers,
with the Russian ambassador in Washington -- where no such things were
In my reply to the question -- My reply to the question of Senator
Franken was honest and correct as I understood it at the time.2
appreciate that some have taken the view that this was a false comment.
That is not my intent. That is not correct.
I will write the Judiciary Committee soon, today or tomorrow, to explain
this testimony for the record.
Secondly, at my confirmation hearing I promised that I would do this: [I]f a
"specific matter arose where I believed my impartiality might
reasonably be questioned, I would consult with the Department ethics
officials regarding the most appropriate way to proceed," (close quote).3
That's what I told them at the confirmation hearing. And I have been here
just three weeks today. A lot has been happening in this three week
period. I wish I'd had more of my staff on board, but we're still
waiting for confirmation for them.
Much has been done. Much needs to be done. And -- But I did and have done as I
promised. I have met with senior officials shortly after arriving here.
We evaluated the rules of ethics and recusal. I have considered the
issues at stake. In fact, on Monday of this week, we set a meeting with
an eye to a final decision on this question. And on Monday, we set that
meeting today. So this was a day that we planned to have a final
discussion about handling this.
I asked for their candid and honest opinion about what I should do about
investigations, certain investigations. And my staff recommended
recusal. They said that since I had involvement with the campaign, I
should not be involved in any campaign investigation. I have studied the
rules and considered their comments and evaluation. I believe those
recommendations are right and just.
Therefore, I have recused myself in the matters that deal with the Trump
The exact language of that recusal is in the
that we -- we will give to you. I -- I've said this, (quote), I have now
"decided to recuse myself from any existing or future investigations of
any matter[s] relat[ed] in any way to the campaigns for President of the
I went on to say, "this announcement should not be interpreted as
confirmation of the existence of any investigation or suggestive of the
scope of any such investigation"5
because we in the Department of Justice
resist confirming or denying the very existence of investigation[s]."
So, in the end, I have followed the right procedure, just as I promised
the committee I would, just as I believe any good attorney general
should do. And a proper decision, I believe, has been reached.
So, I thank you for the opportunity to make those comments, and would be
pleased to take a few questions.
Question: Just to clear up any confusion over this, could you just
explain a little bit about the September 8th meeting? Who on your staff
was there? And what was discussed with
the Russian ambassador?
Attorney General Sessions: The Russian ambassador apparently sent a
staffer to my office -- I did not see him -- and asked for a meeting, as
so many of the ambassadors were doing. And we set up a time, as we did
-- as we normally did. And we met with him.
Two of my senior staffers were there, and maybe a younger staffer, too.
And they both [are] retired Army colonels, and not politicians, and we had
a -- we listened to the ambassador and to what his concerns might be.
Question: Which were what?
Attorney General Sessions: Well, it
was just normal things, such as I started off by saying -- I -- I don't
remember a lot of it. But I do remember saying I'd gone to Russia with a
church group in 1991, and he said he was not a believer himself, but he
was glad to have church people come there. Indeed, I -- I thought he was
pretty much of an old-style Soviet-type ambassador.
And so, we talked about a little bit about terrorism, as I recall.
And somehow the subject of the Ukraine came up. I had had
ambassador in my office the day before. And to listen to him, nothing
that Russian -- Russia had done nothing that was wrong in any area, and
everybody else was wrong with regard to the Ukraine. It got to be a
little bit of a testy conversation at that point.
It wrapped up. He said something about inviting me to have lunch. I did
not accept that, and that never occurred.
Attorney General Sessions: I don't recall.
But most of these ambassadors
are pretty gossipy and they like -- this was in the campaign season, but
I don't recall any specific political discussions.
Question: Beyond those two --
Attorney General Sessions: All right.
Question: Beyond those two meetings, do you recall meeting with Ambassador Kislyak any other times?
Attorney General Sessions: I don't recall having met him.
I mean, it's possible. I'm on [the] Armed Services Committee and things happen, but I don't
recall having met him before those two meetings.
Question: ...sanctions. You said
you...on the question of sanctions -- do you
think -- why do you think he sought the meeting with you? Did he
consider you a representative of the Trump campaign?
Attorney General Sessions: I think ambassadors are always out trying to
find out things and -- and advance their agenda. Most of the countries'
ambassadors that I met with, they would lay out the case for -- Ukraine
would lay out its case -- Poland laid out its case, Latvia, Lithuania,
Hungary, Japan, Canada, Australia. I met with all of those ambassadors
over the year, and so I -- I think that's why [inaudible].
Question: Did you consult -- Did you consult with the White House about
And just to follow on the last question, with hindsight, do you believe
that this is a coincidence that the Russians asked you for a meeting?
Did you believe you were targeted because it came at the height of
And at the same time, then-candidate Trump was
giving an interview to RT saying that he didn't believe there was anything to the
Attorney General Sessions: I don't recall and don't have a sense of any
connection whatsoever about that. I'm not sure I even knew what -- when
we set up the meeting -- what was going to be going on in the world at the
time, so I can't speak for what the Russian ambassador may have had in
Question: Have you met with any other Russian officials or folks
connected to the Russian government since you endorsed Donald Trump?
Attorney General Sessions: I don't believe so. I --
we may -- you know, we meet a
lot of people, so --
Question: [inaudible] separate from
those two meetings you discussed with the ambassador?
Attorney General Sessions: I don't believe so.
Question: The White House press secretary and the
President himself both
said today that they think you should not recuse yourself from these
investigations. Could you [inaudible]?
Attorney General Sessions: I did share with White House counsel,
staff has, that I intend to recuse myself this afternoon. But I -- I feel
like -- because they didn't -- they don't know the rules, the ethics
rules, most people don't and -- but when you evaluate the rules, I feel
like that I am -- I should not be involved investigating a campaign I
had a role in.
One more question and we'll wrap this up.
Question: Two questions if I may. One, you were already considering
recusal before today, is that correct? And secondly --
Attorney General Sessions: Yeah.
Question: And secondly, when you answered Senator Franken's question, were you
just not thinking of the meeting with the Russian ambassador, or did you
not consider it relevant?
Attorney General Sessions: I was taken aback a little bit about this
brand new information, this allegation that surrogates -- and I had
been called a surrogate for Donald Trump -- had been meeting
continuously with Russian officials, and that's what I -- it struck me
very hard, and that's what I focused my answer on. And in retrospect, I
should have slowed down and said, "But I did meet one Russian official a
couple of times. That would be the ambassador."
Thank you all. Take care.