DOJ Withholds Parts of Sessions’s Background Check Form

  • Washington watchdog group seeks info on A.G.’s Russia contacts
  • U.S., after hesistating, produces but a single unsigned page

Jeff Sessions, U.S. attorney general, is sworn in at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in Washington on June 13, 2017.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The U.S. Justice Department is withholding parts Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s security clearance form, probably to avoid showing he swore to the truth of the disclosures even though they were later shown to be false, the head of a Washington watchdog group said after a court hearing.

The Justice Department responded a day late to a court order to produce the information Thursday with a single page showing that Sessions had answered “No” to the question of whether he or his immediate family met with foreign government representatives in the past seven years. Sessions later admitted he spoke with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak at least twice in 2016.

The disclosure didn’t include Sessions’s name, signature and the date, which had been requested by American Oversight, the watchdog group that sued in April to get the information.

American Oversight attorney Cerissa Cafasso told the judge the limited disclosure suggested the influence of “higher-ups” in the government. Outside the courtroom, the group’s executive director Austin Evers, was more blunt, accusing the Justice Department of holding back the signature page because it would have shown the attorney general swore under oath that the information was true.

In court Thursday, Justice Department attorney Anjali Motgi said Sessions’s name and signature page weren’t produced due to a conflicting interpretation of what American Oversight had asked for and that she would take the issue up with her department.

Motgi also said a search for Federal Bureau of Investigation interview notes in which Sessions’s Russia contacts were discussed turned up nothing.

Sessions in March disclosed he’d twice met with Kislyak last year while still a U.S. Senator from Alabama. He neglected to tell that to Congress during his confirmation hearing. The belated revelation compelled Sessions to recuse himself from a Justice Department probe of President Donald Trump’s campaign’s contacts with Russia and whether they colluded to interfere with the election.

A follow-up hearing was scheduled for Aug. 14.

The case is American Oversight v. U.S. Department of Justice, 17-cv-727, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

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