During a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday, Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries challenged Attorney General Jeff Sessions on comments he made about people who selectively "can't recall" details while testifying. Sessions has regularly invoked this response when confronted with questions he doesn't feel comfortable answering, mainly pertaining to the Trump campaign's collusion with Russia. However, as Jeffries pointed out, Sessions once stated that "a failure to remember can constitute perjury."
Jeffries began by reminding Sessions that at a hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee in October, he claimed under oath that he couldn't recall details of events or conversations at least 29 times. Again, in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee in June, Sessions claimed he couldn't recall details at least 36 times. During his testimony on Tuesday, by Jeffries' count, he stated he couldn't recall details at least 20 times.
And yet, the attorney general had previously criticized Hillary Clinton during an interview with Lou Dobbs in 2016 for saying "I can't remember" approximately 35 times during a testimony. “You also stated during that Lou Dobbs interview that the intentional failure to remember can constitute perjury," Jeffries said. "Mr. Attorney General, do you still believe that the intentional failure to remember can constitute a criminal act?”
Sessions replied, “If it’s an act to deceive, yes." But, Jeffries wasn't done yet. He then brought up a speech Sessions gave in 1999, supporting to remove former President Bill Clinton from office on charges of perjury.
In it, he recalls a police officer he once prosecuted, while U.S. attorney, who lied during his deposition. Even though the officer later corrected his false testimony — like Sessions did in March after the Washington Post reported he'd met with Russia's ambassador to the United States in 2016, but didn't disclose that information to the Senate Judiciary Committee — Sessions still prosecuted him. In his speech, Sessions said he "refused to hold a president accountable to a different standard" than the officer he prosecuted.
"You testified under oath," Jeffries said. "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 ... 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.”
Sessions continues to stand by the fact that he didn't lie under oath about what he knew regarding the Trump campaign's collusion with Russia. "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," Sessions said during the hearing. "I will not accept and reject accusations that I have ever lied under oath. That is a lie."
And yet there's that phrase again: "to the best of my recollection." As CNN's Chris Cillizza points out, those key words have allowed him to go back and forth on his testimony. In October, Sessions told Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken that he was "not aware" of any Trump surrogates communicating with the Russia government. It was later revealed that he sat in on a meeting with Trump and a foreign policy adviser, Geroge Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his ties to Russia.
In that meeting, Papadopolos bragged about his connections to the Russian government and said he could set up a meeting between Trump and Putin. Sessions reportedly pushed back on this idea. And yet, somehow, he only recalled this meeting once it was "revealed in the press."