President Donald Trump told reporters on Friday morning that “I don’t remember much” about a March 2016 meeting at which a foreign policy adviser proposed setting up a meeting between candidate Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“It was a very unimportant meeting, took place a long time ago,” Trump said before he boarded a helicopter for his trip to Asia.
That March 31, 2016, meeting of Trump’s campaign team has taken on new importance this week after prosecutors disclosed that a young adviser present at the table had pleaded guilty to making false statements about the nature of his contacts with Russians last year.
That former adviser, George Papadopoulos, has agreed to cooperate with investigators working for Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller.
Also at the table in March 2016 was now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. At his confirmation hearing this year, Sessions denied having contacts with Russians during the campaign. Senate Democrats including Al Franken of Minnesota, Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut have accused Sessions of lying under oath.
On Thursday, the Democrats demanded that Sessions return to the Senate to answer new questions about his contacts as a top surrogate for Trump, and contradictions in his testimony this year.
Leahy said Sessions’ prior accounts are “impossible to reconcile” with court papers unsealed this week.
But it’s far from clear that Republicans, who control the Senate and the Judiciary Committee, have any appetite to grill the attorney general of their own political party. Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has not scheduled any new hearing.
The criticism of Sessions is taking place at a sensitive time for the attorney general: Trump has spent the last day using Twitter and impromptu media sessions to beat up on his own Justice Department.
“I”m really not involved with the Justice Department,” he said on Friday morning. “I’d like to let it run itself. But honestly, they should be looking at the Democrats… A lot of people are disappointed in the Justice Department including me.”
Trump also has tweeted that he wants the DOJ and the FBI to launch an investigation into his political opponent, Hillary Clinton. He has criticized James Comey, the FBI director he fired in May under questionable circumstances.
And he urged prosecutors to take a look at Anthony Podesta, a prominent Democratic lobbyist who stepped aside from his firm, The Podesta Group, earlier this week after court documents suggested Mueller’s office was investigating his work on behalf of Ukraine.
The public remarks from the commander in chief break with decades-old traditions dating back to the post-Watergate period, when officials from both political parties demanded the Justice Department be insulated from political pressure from the White House.