He Should Step Down Immediately for the Sake of the Integrity of the U.S. Legal System –
By Glynn Wilson –
MOBILE, Ala. — It is now being reported by many news organizations that Attorney General Jeff Sessions lied to the Senate Judiciary Committee in his testimony during his confirmation hearings about meeting with Russian officials on at least two occasions during the presidential campaign.
While top Senate Democrats are calling on Sessions to resign as Attorney General, perhaps they should be levying charges against Sessions for contempt of Congress or even perjury for lying under oath.
The Washington Post first broke the story that Alabama Republican Senator Sessions twice met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in July and September, during the campaign in which he was a key adviser to candidate Donald Trump.
These were “encounters he did not disclose when asked about possible contacts between members of President Trump’s campaign and representatives of Moscow during Sessions’s confirmation hearing to become attorney general,” according to the Post. “One of the meetings was a private conversation between Sessions and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that took place in September in the senator’s office, at the height of what U.S. intelligence officials say was a Russian cyber campaign to upend the U.S. presidential race.”
When Sessions spoke with Kislyak in July and September, the senator was a senior member of the influential Armed Services Committee as well as one of Trump’s top foreign policy advisers. Sessions played a prominent role supporting Trump on the campaign trail after formally joining the campaign in February 2016.
“The previously undisclosed discussions could fuel new congressional calls for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Russia’s alleged role in the 2016 presidential election,” the Post reports. “As attorney general, Sessions oversees the Justice Department and the FBI, which have been leading investigations into Russian meddling and any links to Trump’s associates. He has so far resisted calls to recuse himself.”
The Post report was backed up by reporting from Reuters, which says that Sessions failed to disclose meetings with the Russian ambassador during direct questioning by Senator Al Franken, a Democrat from Wisconsin.
“Then-Senator Sessions did not disclose his two meetings with the Russian ambassador,” Reuters reports.
C-SPAN was running that video as the lead item on its website Thursday morning, saying Sessions failed to disclose meetings with the Russian Ambassador in 2016 and that Senator Al Franken questioned Attorney General nominee Sessions about Trump campaign surrogates communicating with Russians during his confirmation hearing. Then-Senator Sessions did not disclose his two meetings with the Russian ambassador. Watch the video. In fact, it is now clear he lied to Congress, a criminal offense that should be disqualifying to anyone appointed to serve as the top law enforcement officer in the land.
Reuters is also reporting that top Democrats are pressing for Sessions to resign.
Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader in the House, called for Sessions to resign and for an independent, bipartisan investigation into Trump’s possible ties to the Russians.
“Sessions is not fit to serve as the top law enforcement officer of our country and must resign,” she said in a statement late Wednesday.
U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee, criticized Sessions for keeping his contact with the ambassador secret even after Trump fired his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
“When Senator Sessions testified under oath that ‘I did not have communications with the Russians,’ his statement was demonstrably false, yet he let it stand for weeks,” Cummings remarked in a statement. “Attorney General Sessions should resign immediately, and there is no longer any question that we need a truly independent commission to investigate this issue.”
Flynn was dismissed last month after it emerged that he had discussed U.S. sanctions on Russia with Kislyak before Trump’s swearing-in on Jan. 20, and then misled Vice President Mike Pence about the conversations.
The first encounter Sessions had with the Russians came in July at a Heritage Foundation event that was attended by about 50 ambassadors, during the Republican National Convention. A Justice Department official confirmed Sessions’ contacts in July and September, according to the Post.
“Allegations over contacts between Trump aides and Russia before his inauguration, and the charge of Russian meddling, have swirled around the early days of Trump’s presidency,” Reuters reports.
At his confirmation hearing on January 10, Sessions said he had no contact with Russian officials about the 2016 election.
In a defensive statement issued Wednesday night, Sessions claimed he had never discussed campaign details with any Russian officials.
“I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign. I have no idea what this allegation is about,” Sessions lied. “It is false.”
The White House is so far standing by Sessions, dismissing the disclosure of the meetings as a partisan attack.
“Attorney General Sessions met with the ambassador in an official capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is entirely consistent with his testimony,” the Trump White House tweeted.
The Russian Embassy to the United States, shrugging off the uproar, said on Thursday it was in regular contact with “U.S. partners.”
But the disclosure of Sessions’ contacts fueled new calls in Congress for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election.
Before Trump took office, U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia had sought to influence the campaign, including by hacking into and leaking Democratic Party emails. The Kremlin denied the allegations.
As attorney general, Sessions oversees the Department of Justice, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which has been leading inquires into the allegations of the Russian meddling and any links to Trump associates.
Sessions, a former senator, has so far resisted calls to recuse himself from those investigations. But on Thursday morning, he told NBC News, “Whenever it’s appropriate I will recuse myself, there’s no doubt about that.”
Sessions’ failure to disclose the contacts worried even some of his fellow Republicans, according to Reuters.
Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said on Twitter: “AG Sessions should clarify his testimony and recuse himself.”
During Sessions’ confirmation hearing, Democratic Senator Al Franken asked him what he would do if he learned of any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of the 2016 campaign.
Sessions said he was not aware of any such activities, adding, “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.”
Asked by Democrat Patrick Leahy in a questionnaire whether he had been in contact with “anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election, either before or after Election Day,” Sessions responded, “No.”
Sessions’ colleague on the Armed Services Committee, Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill, questioned why Sessions would meet with Kislyak.
“I’ve been on the Armed Services Com for 10 years. No call or meeting w/Russian ambassador. Ever,” she said on Twitter. “Ambassadors call members of Foreign Rel Com.”
At the Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing January 10, Sessions was asked by Franken what he would do if he learned of any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of the 2016 campaign.
“I’m not aware of any of those activities,” Sessions lied. “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.”
Last month, the Post reported that Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn had discussed U.S. sanctions with Kislyak during the month before Trump took office, contrary to public assertions by Mike Pence, the vice president-elect, and other top Trump officials. Flynn was forced to resign the following week.
When asked to comment on Sessions’s contacts with Kislyak, Franken said in a statement to the Post on Wednesday: “If it’s true that Attorney General Sessions met with the Russian ambassador in the midst of the campaign, then I am very troubled that his response to my questioning during his confirmation hearing was, at best, misleading.”
Furthermore, he said: “It is now clearer than ever that the attorney general cannot, in good faith, oversee an investigation at the Department of Justice and the FBI of the Trump-Russia connection, and he must recuse himself immediately.”
Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon and a senior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on Twitter late Wednesday that “we need a special counsel to investigate Trump associates’ ties to Russia.”
Lindsey O. Graham, a Republican Senator from South Carolina, said at a CNN town hall meeting Wednesday night that if the substance of Sessions’s conversations with the Russian ambassador proved to be improper or suspect, he too would join the call for Sessions to go.
“If there is something there and it goes up the chain of investigation, it is clear to me that Jeff Sessions, who is my dear friend, cannot make that decision about Trump,” Graham said. “But if there’s something there that the FBI thinks is criminal in nature, then for sure you need a special prosecutor. If that day ever comes, I’ll be the first one to say it needs to be somebody other than Jeff.”
Current and former U.S. officials say they see Kislyak as a diplomat, not an intelligence operative, according to the Post. But they were not sure to what extent, if any, Kislyak was aware of or involved in the covert Russian election campaign. Steven Hall, former head of Russia operations at the CIA, said that Russia would have been keenly interested in cultivating a relationship with Sessions because of his role on key congressional committees and as an early adviser to Trump. Sessions’s membership on the Armed Services Committee would have made him a priority for the Russian ambassador.
“The fact that he had already placed himself at least ideologically behind Trump would have been an added bonus for Kislyak,” Hall said.
Michael McFaul, a Stanford University professor who until 2014 served as U.S. ambassador to Russia, said he was not surprised that Kislyak would seek a meeting with Sessions.
“The weird part is to conceal it,” he said. “That was at the height of all the discussions of what Russia was doing during the election.”
Congressman Darrell Issa, a Republican from California and a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee, is one of the few Republicans in Congress to state publicly the need for an independent investigation of Trump’s campaign contacts with the Russians and Kremlin attempts to manipulate the U.S. election.
Preliminary investigations are already under way by the House and Senate Intelligence panels, and the FBI is allegedly investigating possible Russian interference in the election and the Trump team’s possible ties to Kremlin officials.
“During his confirmation process, Attorney General Jeff Sessions – our nation’s top law enforcement official – took an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Given (the) news of his contact with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the 2016 presidential campaign, it is clear that he broke that oath,” said Anthony D. Romero of the American Civil Liberties Union. “The American people deserve a full investigation into whether Jeff Sessions perjured himself. If senators of both parties allow an Attorney General nominee to plainly lie under oath with no repercussions, they will render our government’s cabinet confirmation process no more than kabuki theater.”
In Sessions’ home town of Mobile, Alabama, most attorneys and politicians are too afraid of Trump and Sessions to react to the allegations by commenting publicly, according to long time Mobile attorney Herndon Inge III, who has known Sessions since about the time that he moved to Mobile from the Black Belt about 30 years ago. He said the allegations are troubling.
“As a private lawyer and as an appointed U.S. Attorney, Mr. Sessions has exhibited ‘tribal’ motivations,” he said, ‘my team versus your team.’ That is exhibiting “partisan enforcement of the laws, targeting elected officials and leaders of the opposing political party.” He said this behavior continued when Sessions became a Senator.
“In my observation, his loyalty is to his political party,” he said, “instead of ‘Liberty and Justice for all’.”
When asked in an interview if he thinks Sessions should resign for being in contempt of Congress for lying under oath about meeting with Russian officials during the campaign, Inge agreed with Senator Al Franken.
“Sessions has a lot of answers to give, before it is determined that he lied to Committee, while under oath,” he said. “But it sure looks like he did, from video clips of his sworn testimony and the recent reports from the Intelligence Community and from the New York Times and the Washington Post. But Sessions is innocent, until proven guilty, even though he may not believe the same applies to others.”
Dianne Jones, secretary of the Mobile Democratic Party executive committee, said Sessions is not the “choir boy” many think he is with a past shaded by questionable settlements and legal wheeling and dealing with banks and corporations, in addition to his racist remarks reportedly widely from the 1980s, when he was denied a federal judgeship.
“Clearly Jeff Sessions lied to Congress,” Jones said in reaction to this story. “Had these meetings been casual or part of his role on a committee, all the more reason to be open and mention them. He lied. It is not a question of removal but a question of when!”
Al Henley, former head of the AFL-CIO of Alabama, said Sessions “lied to get elected” the first time.
Sessions accused his Democratic Party opponent, Roger Bedford, who was polling way ahead at the time, of using his position as state Senator to profit himself for having a water line built to a needy neighborhood.
“He had an elaborate press conference to explain his charges,” Henley said. “That presser lasted about an hour, was televised and he sold the charges to the voters. HE KNEW IT WAS A LIE WHEN HE DID IT!”
When reached for comment on this story at a conference in Tuscaloosa, Senator Roger Bedford had this to say: “I hope Attorney General Sessions will come forward and fully explain the discrepancy in his answers to his fellow senators.”
© 2017, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.