Return to Transcripts main page
Continuing Coverage of Attorney General Sessions at House Judiciary Committee Hearing. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired November 14, 2017 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[15:00:00] JEFF SESSION, ATTORNEY GENERAL: You can arrest a person on probable cause and put them in jail. I think it's appropriate to hold proceeds of a drug deal at least for trial.
LABRADOR: I think it's appropriate to hold them but -
SESSIONS: With probable cause.
LABRADOR: But I don't think it's appropriate to take them until there has been a guilty finding. In fact, Justice Thomas recently criticized the forfeiture laws -- and I hope we can have a longer conversation about this because I think this is an important issue.
I've always found you to be very fair in our communications and I think we need to reform the asset forfeiture laws in the United States and we need to make sure that people are protected. And the Fifth Amendment to me is just as important as the First Amendment and every other amendment of the Constitution. I think we should work together to make sure that we strengthen it.
SESSIONS: Some of the complaints that you've read about are state and local forfeitures and not federal. We believe our people are operating at a high standard. I'm going to have an accountability office on all of these cases and we will not accept abuses of the law.
LABRADOR: Thank you very much.
GOODLATTE: The chair recognizes the gentlewoman from Alabama, Ms. Roby, for 5 minutes.
ROBY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. This is so great to have you here today. We are really excited to have you, Attorney General Sessions, and we just thank you for your many years of service to the State of Alabama and now your continued work as -- for our nation as our Attorney General.
And I've known you for a very long time and you've served our state for a very long time and the people of Alabama know you well.
So, we've heard a lot about Russia today and things you may or may not have heard and that somehow, you're guilty of collusion with Russia. So, I have two questions for you -- have you ever worked with Russians to influence an election?
SESSIONS: No. ROBY: Have you ever in any capacity -- personally politically or officially ever done anything to hurt or harm the national security of the United States of America?
SESSIONS: I don't believe I have. I've tried to protect the national security of our country.
ROBY: Thank you.
SESSIONS: Thank you.
ROBY: I wanted to move on to a different subject. I was pleased to see that your first act -- official act after being sworn in as Attorney General was to present President Trump an executive order to strengthen the enforcement of federal law on transnational criminal organizations. And so, this is an important initiative to curtail the international trafficking of drugs, weapons and human beings -- often victims of sex trafficking including young children.
One of the reasons that I was eager when asked to join the judiciary committee earlier in this Congress was to work towards making a difference on this issue and we have worked with the Department of Justice already on some very important policy changes, particularly to our criminal code, to that effect.
Both the House and the Senate Judiciary committees have held hearings regarding specifically the legal liability of websites hosting advertisements for prostitution to include the prostitution and abuse of children.
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act shields websites such as Backpage, Craigslist, Facebook and many others from legal liability regarding content hosted by their users.
So, I'm interested -- we had a hearing just recently on this -- and I'm really interested in finding the right balance between protecting the freedom of expression and protecting the rights of these young children who are victims who are being abused without impacting innovation of the Internet.
And so, I would appreciate your thoughts on this issue. I know that Mr. Farenthold already asked you a question specific to the Save Act. But I think this is very important for us to get this right and do so working together. Because at the end of the day we have to find a solution and we all want to do everything that we can to protect these children from these horrible,, abuses.
SESSIONS: Thank you very much. I think that's a valuable thing for us to address. In recent days I've talked about it with my staff. We haven't formed a clear picture of where we will go but to the extent that which we could work with you on that I would be pleased to.
ROBY: Well, I do want to -- and like I said, I think the most important thing here is that we get this right and strike that balance again as a member of this committee to have this opportunity to fight for those who are unable to fight for themselves is a tremendous privilege and I appreciate the partnership with the department on making sure that we get this right.
So, thank you so much. We appreciate you and thank you for your service to us.
SESSIONS: Thank you. Thank you for your excellent service to the state of Alabama.
ROBY: Thank you.
SESSIONS: No doubt -- and the United States.
ROBY: I yield back.
GOODLATTE: The chair recognizes the gentleman from Texas, Mr. Gohmert, for 5 minutes.
GOHMERT: Thank you. And Attorney General sessions, always good to see you.
SESSIONS: Thank you.
GOHMERT: And in the short hearing it looks like unless somebody else comes in. First of all, you know, it seemed like to me you got mistreated a little bit. There were questions about your answer to Senator Franken's question and I've got a copy of what he said.
Now he is explaining his question -- he said, "If there's evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communed with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what would you do?" And then you even had somebody offer into the record that Mother Jones basically said, you lied. And I would submit to this committee doesn't need Mother Jones to inaccurately describe or depict or tell us what happened when we can look at the conversation and see for ourselves.
So, let me ask you, was your meeting with the Russian diplomats -- was that in the course and scope of your obligations with the campaign or in the course and scope of your duties as a United States senator?
SESSIONS: Well, really, they were mostly official business -
GOHMERT: As a US senator?
SESSIONS: I did speak at the Republican convention but the conversation out on the floor after I finished my remarks were brief and then with regard to the meeting in my office it was substantively essentially about foreign relations between the United States.
GOHMERT: So, what you talked about with them there at the convention -- it was not about the presidential campaign of Donald Trump, it was as in your capacity as the United States senator; correct?
SESSIONS: Well, I think so. You could say, I guess, that I was invited for other reasons.
GOHMERT: Now when you had talked before about -- that you had consulted with the career people about whether or not to recuse yourself, can you tell us whether or not one of those people with whom you consulted was Rod Rosenstein?
SESSIONS: Yes, I could say how that occurred.
GOHMERT: No, I'm just asking if you did.
SESSIONS: I understand. So, I was just thinking out loud whether that's a kind of consultative relationship that I should reveal.
GOHMERT: I'm not asking you to reveal what was said.
SESSIONS: I talked to another senior official in the Department of Justice who holds a position and he also consults others within the Department before he makes opinions.
GOHMERT: Well, were you aware when you recused yourself of the investigation by the Justice Department in to Yandex (ph) e-mail account, lapai2009@yandex. (ph) Are you Google email account marvid- email@example.com? (ph) Are you aware of those? The criminal complaint and all?
GOHMERT: All right. Were you aware that -- and I've got a motion to seal here.
SESSIONS: I don't think so. OK.
SESSIONS: I will say that.
GOHMERT: Well, yes. Well, this was investigation into Russia turning to corner the market with U.S. uranium. And there is actually a motion to seal -- I'm sure you've filed them many times as an U.S. Attorney. And this one is respectively submitted Rod J. Rosenstein, U.S. Attorney and Adam Hickey was the assistant attorney, asking Judge William Connelly to have this Russian investigation -- investigation into the Russian effort to corner our market to seal those records.
So you were not aware that Rosenstein had had this prior dealing with Russian Uranium before you recused yourself, had you? You weren't aware of that, right?
SESSIONS: Well, my recusal that we made public was for the Mueller investigation, and the campaign.
GOHMERT: Right. Well, but that's...
SESSIONS: Russia did -
GOHMERT: Mueller was appointed, but you...
SESSIONS: Right. GOHMERT: ...weren't aware that Mueller had been central in the investigation before Jim Comey took over at the FBI, September of 2013. So you were not aware of the Mueller-Comey investigation into Russian uranium, were you, before you recused yourself?
SESSIONS: No, I don't think so. No, I was not, of course. I wasn't in the Department of Justice, and wasn't aware of that...
SESSIONS: ...when it was going on.
GOHMERT: Well, my time has run out, but we chart here that shows just how integral the relationship is with Mr. Rosenstein, Mr. Mueller, into this Uranium One thing. It sure stinks to high heaven and it doesn't appear they me they ought to be involved in investigating. But my time time's run out. And I sure appreciate your service.
SESSIONS: Thank you. I appreciate your service. Mr. Chairman, I would just note on that the matter that was prosecuted concerning Uranium in a Russian business companies was two years after this CFIUS investigation. And that's one Mr. Rosenstein handled.
It was brought to his office. It didn't hit his office until two years afterwards, and is really unrelated to the allegations about Uranium One as I understand it.
GOHMERT: Mr. Chairman? Mr. Chairman?
GOODLATTE: Coming from Florida, Mr. Rutherford is recognized for five minutes.
RUTHERFORD: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Attorney General, thank you very much for your service and your time here today. And I'll try to make this as short as I can.
But representing and speaking for the Sheriffs across the country, and other chiefs of police as well. One of the issues that -- that I -- know that they have great concern about is -- through your grant process, if you could just have someone look at the situation where non-relevant criteria are placed on grants to require agencies to meet some performance criteria.
For example, one that -- that I was familiar with was NIMS Compliance, National Incident Management System. Had absolutely nothing to do with the grant, but they put that on as a criteria for -- for a grant application. And what that does is it takes away home rule from local law enforcement.
And I know several sheriffs and chiefs are very concerned about that. Have -- have you had any issues with that? You're aware of?
SESSIONS: Well the statute Congress passed for the grant program allows the Department of Justice to place special conditions on grants. But the one we placed that deals in the future with sanctuary cities does -- is minimal, it simply requires a cooperative relationship.
Where federal officials can go to the jail and that the people at the jail can communicate with the federal law enforcement officers. Does not require the states to go arrest people or hold them past their release date, none of those things.
We think it's a very reasonable thing, may still be some conditions on those grants from previous administrations. But that's the one I think that we have added to it.
RUTHERFORD: Yeah, well -- well I can tell you that's -- that's not the one that I'm concerned about.
RUTHERFORD: In fact, the sheriffs and chiefs that I've spoken to support that wholeheartedly.
SESSIONS: All right, well thank you, I will be glad to look at that.
RUTHERFORD: But the other issue dealing with -- you know, the -- if they can -- if they can force you to be NIMS compliant, they can force you to carry revolvers versus semi automatics, you know it just goes down the slippery slope.
But -- but more important than that, I want to talk to you briefly about the VIPR program under the TSA. That's a Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response teams that work surface transportation around -- some around our rail, our buses, our subways, those sorts of things.
But there was a movement at one time by TSA to actually move those VIPR operations onto public roads and highways. And -- and there's a lot of pushback within local law enforcement on -- on those issues, as well. Have you looked into that, the legality of it?
Because clearly those special inserts (ph) that you -- that you go through and every -- every air traveler in America has been through that, they -- they get -- it's the special inserts (ph) that you go through the airport, as you know.
And it's based on special needs out of a -- a Supreme Court decision that suspends the Fourth Amendment under those special needs, and that is if a significant threat -- if you have a verifiable threat to public safety.
And none of that exists out on those public roads. Now, if there was a specific threat then I don't think anybody would have issue with that. However, that's -- that's never been the case, and in fact, I was told they want to do that for training purposes within TSA.
And that I -- I think should be unacceptable.
SESSIONS: I have not looked at that, because they're not in the Department of Justice. But we may have legal opinions that could be relevant to that. But I have not engaged in that issue, Congressman. RUTHERFORD: Right, and -- and that's why I bring it up here today, to -- to see what is your legal opinion of those special insertions by TSA without the special needs concerns out -- out of that Supreme Court decisions about significant risk and the verifiable public safety threat.
SESSIONS: All right.
RUTHERFORD: If you could look into that, I would appreciate it.
SESSIONS: I will -- I will ask about it, I sure will.
RUTHERFORD: Thank you.
SESSIONS: Thank you.
RUTHERFORD: Mr. Chairman, I yield back.
GOODLATTE: I thank the gentleman. I now recognize the gentleman from New York, he has something to place in the record.
NADLER: Mr. Chairman, I ask the unanimous consent to place into the record an article from today's Washington Post, entitled 'Has Jeff Sessions Got The World's Worst Memory Or What?'
GOODLATTE: Without objection. And I understand that the lady -- the gentlelady from Texas has something to place into the record.
JACKSON LEE: Yes, sir. And a parliamentary inquiry. I just want to put in the record, January 10th, 2017, Senate Judiciary hearing on the nomination of the Attorney General, and October 18th, 2017, Senate Judiciary hearing on oversight of the Justice Department.
Parliamentary inquiry is to ...
GOODLATTE: Without objection.
JACKSON LEE: Thank you. The General's said a number of things that I hope we can work together on, but in particular, parliamentary inquiry to be able to put into record and require an answer to the creation of a task force on sexual crimes against children ...
GOODLATTE: I don't think that's a parliamentary objection, but I appreciate it.
JACKSON LEE: ... but if I could put it into the record, please. And also a ...
GOODLATTE: I don't think that's a parliamentary objection.
JACKSON LEE: I'm sorry, pardon me? And I also -- the parliamentary inquiry is that we will have opportunity for questions to be put into record, and one on the 702 reauthorization regarding shared information with a foreign entity that interfered with the elections.
GOODLATTE: The gentlelady can submit questions for the record. JACKSON LEE: I thank the gentleman, I thank the General for his kindness. I yield back.
GOODLATTE: Thank you, thank you. I now recognize myself for five minutes. General Sessions, you have to know that I hold you in tremendously high regard, and I know you've had a bumpy ride, but there are some of us that really appreciate who you are.
With that, as the -- as the Justice Department knows, the House and Senate have conducted investigations into the illegal sale of little body parts of little babies by some Planned Parenthood executives has made clear via undercover videos that surfaced two years ago.
And according to a report yesterday published in The Hill, the FBI sought documents the Senate obtained from abortion providers as a result of their investigation into the sale of these little body parts.
And so the FBI has now requested what is now several thousand pages of testimony and findings the Senate has gathered through their investigation of Planned Parenthood. That may mean they could be readying indictments against individuals who've committed the sale of these little body parts for profit.
So I want to ask a question that you can answer and not put you in a possible spot. But generally speaking, are findings made by any Senate investigation, any subsequent referral sufficient evidence for the Justice Department to bring charges upon any party guilty of violating federal law?
SESSIONS: Well it depends on the substance of those congressional findings, but they certainly can provide a basis for starting an investigation, for verifying the findings of Congress and could provide a basis for charges.
GOODLATTE: Well I hope that's ...
SESSIONS: I think that's an appropriate way for us to relate to one another.
GOODLATTE: Yes, sir. Well I -- I hope the Justice Department obviously will take a very close look at the -- the evidence that the Senate is providing to the FBI.
Given the standard that you have personally demonstrated for recusal, to avoid even the appearance of impartiality, it seems clear to me -- this is my opinion, that Mr. Mueller should recuse himself based on your standard here from an investigating involving Russian collusion a long time ago.
That's my perspective. I've suggested many times that the existing Russia/Trump investigation that Mr. Mueller is conducting is a -- a snipe hunt. And as many of the members of this committee have indicated, however, there does seem to be damning evidence related to Russia and Hillary Clinton's state department. Had there been as much evidence in my judgment against the president as we have against the Obama administration and Mrs. Clinton, I'm afraid Mr. Trump would have been burned at the stake by now.
The -- the -- there's a clear inequity. The FBI and the Department Of Energy court documents detail an extensive coordinated scheme of kickbacks, bribery, extortion threats and general wrongdoing related to the acquisition of an American uranium trucking firm and the Canadian mining company, Uranium One by the Russian nuclear giant, ROSATOM.
The FBI investigation obtained an eye witness account, backed by documents indicating Russian nuclear officials, routing millions of dollars to the U.S., which benefitted the Clinton administration -- or the Clinton foundation -- the Clinton Foundation.
Despite this evidence, rather than bring charges in 2010, that was not on your watch, the FBI continued the investigation for four more years and allowed the acquisition of 20 percent of our strategic uranium supply to take place without informing Congress. The head of the FBI at that time was Robert Mueller.
So General Sessions, I guess my question is sort of just one for the record here, I think committee is about to close up here. What do you think the Justice Department can do to correct this seeming lack of -- or reversal of priority here and what appears to be to some to be an injustice? How can we just look at the evidence and the facts for what they are and do what appears to be the right thing?
SESSIONS: Well, you have raised a question, that we have much, much going on in the Department Of Justice. Yesterday, I sent, I believe to you and to the chairman and 15 or more members of this committee, a response to a request that you made some time ago that we're going to bring in independent prosecutors to review a host of matters out there, so I can look you in the eye and tell you that we've done the right thing and we've done an objective evaluation of matters that have been raised and raised by this committee and hopefully we can decide if there's some matters that need to be investigated, some might need to be closed, some might need more money and resources and agents. I feel like that's my responsibility. I don't believe that is giving in to politics. I believe that I should evaluate your request on the merits, and you raised some matters that I think I'm duty-bound to respond to.
GOODLATTE: Well, General Sessions, I'll just put it like this. That sounds pretty good to me. I appreciate you appearing for the committee today. We have other...
M. JOHNSON: I don't have a question.
GOODLATTE: The battle is over. They always show up for dinner.
M. JOHNSON: I just was going to ask unanimous consent since there's been this stir about Senators meeting or not meeting with Russians. I would ask, to have this part of the record, it is article from March 3rd, 2017, Katie Pavlich. It's a list of Democrats who also met with the Russian ambassador and then also this article from June 26th, regarding Senator McCaskill's tweet that she got no call or meeting with the Russian ambassador ever, and then it turns out the article points out actually she met with the Russian ambassador at his home. I would like those in the record.
GOODLATTE: Without objection. And now the gentleman from Georgia is recognized for five minutes. I'm sorry, you snuck up on me, there.
M. JOHNSON: I've been in that other little thing we've got going on, tax reform, getting ready to do that. Attorney General Sessions and Mary (ph), thank you for being here. Now I will say, I'm from Georgia. There was something that was said earlier in this hearing that I was going to just pass by, was going to let it go. But that sound of fingernails on a chalkboard, especially this week when I heard "War Eagle." Congratulations, you all did well and we didn't.
But I think the biggest thing is, is one, I want to thank you for coming. Thank you for answering. I've listened to your questions, I've listened to the answers. I appreciate your honesty, even if we disagree. Because I have sat here before and talked to previous attorney generals that I couldn't get them to admit that 65 in a 55 was against the law. You would agree that is against the law, correct?
SESSIONS: It's against the law.
M. JOHNSON: There we go. We're far ahead of where we were last time. But I do have an interesting issue, and it's a bipartisan, because I believe that this committee actually works, and I do believe your work in the Senate shows that we can come together and there's compromise. One of the areas that's very important to this committee and its very important to our chairman, it's also very important to me, is criminal justice reform.
One of the problems we always have though, we seem to the -- we seem to gravitate toward the sticking points instead of finding areas where we can work together. Wouldn't you say that an approach in which we can start finding solutions would help us get to those points, maybe if where we have sticking points? Do you think that would be a good thing?
SESSIONS: Yes. I think there are things that definitely are doable that we all could agree need to be fixed.
M. JOHNSON: Well, I think so and I've worked across the aisles, as we've worked from very conservative to liberal states, it doesn't matter, because at the end of the day, I believe that those in our system are valued human beings by the gift of god that's given to each. They've made mistakes, they're paying for those mistakes, many times. It's a money and moral issue. Are we doing what we can do redeem the folks who are in there and actually giving them a chance, if they choose to, to have a better life as they get out?
We have a bill call the Redemption Act, it's bipartisan. We've been working on this. It's something that is for, basically, taking those once they get into the federal system, starting them early and making sure that they have a path toward getting back out and having -- lowering the recidivism rate. What we've run into, though, and we've talked with the White House about this, and there seems to be always this knee jerk, well, we'll just package it together with a bigger bill.
I believe -- and I would love to get your work on this -- that if we can work with the bureau of prisons to start this one bill -- this simple bill that doesn't deal with sentencing, it gives them time to get time off, transition earlier to work relief, to give them settable, attainable goals that is about accountability and responsibility, so that when they come out, the recidivism rate is lower because they have marketable skills and things that we can do.
What I'd like to know is, do you think that if you think we can work that in the House and the Senate, get that to the president who has been supportive of this and his administration, do you believe that is a workable solution? Given your time in the Senate, we get so stuck on things we can't do. Wouldn't it be good if we start on something we could do?
SESSIONS: I believe a pre-release program can be effective. Most of the time, according to my experience, they don't achieve huge results, but if they achieve 10, 15, 20 percent improvement, that's a value. What I have learned, and perhaps you'd like to examine it, the inspector general at the Department of Justice has done a review of pre-release programs and found some of them are not very effective. Some of them are effective and not enough attention has been put on it, and maybe the money could be better and more effectively spent.
We got a new prison commissioner at the Bureau of Prisons. He's open to this. We talked about it. I'm hopeful that we can improve that, and fundamentally, we do need to make sure that anything that's done with regard of these reentry programs that we've studied the best ones and try to make sure our money is going to the better programs as opposed to some that may not be as efficient.
M. JOHNSON: Well, thank you for the rousing endorsement of the bill because that's exactly what it does. It gets the people from the minute they start in so that the Bureau of Prisons evaluates them and puts them on a plan while they are still in prison.
We're not talking about this, get them out quick. We're saying here's ones that are serving their sentence and earning that time up to where they are able to then have skills and such skill sets so that when they do leave their recidivism rate is down.
It's based on an evidence-based approach. We're not saying just put them out because we're soft on crime or not soft on crime. This is evidence-based approach that we've seen work in places like Georgia, Texas, Kentucky -- all over the place. Non-conservative states that have said, this is something we need to do.
I appreciate your commitment to law and order. And my father is a Georgia state trooper; he's 31 years. Believe me, I fought the law every day and lost. But he's still my dad and I understand law enforcement's role but also understand after we get there after they pay for their crime what can we do as a society to make sure our money is well-spent and also actually look into these folks' eyes and say, we're going to give you a chance but it's up to you. And I appreciate your discussion on that. I want to see that move forward. It's something I think we can move forward both in the House and the Senate and gives the president and the Department of Justice something to build on as we get to the tougher issues of sentencing reform and mandatory minimums and those kinds of things that we know always bog us down.
I appreciate you being here today -- the President -- and what you all are working on has been appreciated and it is always good to see Mary as well. So, thank you. Thanks so much.
And, Chairman, I yield back.
GOODLATTE: Thank you very much. I want to thank the gentleman from Georgia for ending on a high note.
[15:30:00] And I will state that, General Sessions, Mr. Conyers and I both look forward to working with you and others in the administration on criminal justice reform.