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Jeff Sessions is under fire today for reportedly meeting twice with the Russian ambassador last year, but it looks like the newly confirmed attorney general has some wiggle room.

Unfortunately, Sessions’ carefully parsed wiggle room is the sort of thing Bill Clinton relied on heavily during his presidency, and it’s not the sort of thing I want to see from the nation’s top law enforcement officer.

The basics of this story are this: Sessions allegedly met twice in 2016 with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. The former senator then said during his confirmation hearing in January that he, “did not have communications with the Russians.”

A number of GOP lawmakers, including Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, have called on Sessions to recuse himself from an ongoing investigation into Russia’s alleged involvement in the 2016 presidential election.

Democratic lawmakers, including Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., have taken it a step further by calling on Sessions to resign. Others have accused the AG of perjuring himself.

Let’s unpack this story.

In July 2016, Sessions spoke with Kislyak at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, during a luncheon sponsored by the State Department and Heritage Foundation. An estimated 50 ambassadors attended the event.

Sessions not only delivered an address at the Heritage-sponsored event, but he was also introduced as “a senior national security adviser to Trump,” Politico reported, citing a senior campaign adviser.

At the conclusion of Sessions’ speech, he was approached by a gaggle of ambassadors, including Kislyak. The two spoke only briefly.

House Judiciary Democrats demand FBI criminal investigation into Sessions

Also from the Washington Examiner

Every Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter on Thursday asking FBI Director James Comey for a criminal investigation into Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“Efforts by Attorney General Sessions to assert that his testimony was not false or even misleading because he met with the Russian ambassador in his capacity as a senator, rather than a campaign representative, appear to be disingenuous at best as the questions put to him did not in any way ask if the meeting was campaign related,” the Democrats wrote.

In response to a question during his confirmation hearing at the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sessions said he “did not have communications with the Russians” during the Trump campaign.

03/02/17 12:49 PM

That was the senator’s first verbal interaction with the Russian ambassador during the election.

Their second meeting reportedly took place in the senator’s office in September, according to the Washington Post.

If that’s confirmed as true, it would mean their second interaction took place amid reports Russian hackers had broken into the personal email accounts of Democratic National Committee staffers and into the account of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta.

This brings us to Sessions’ testimony before the U.S. Senate, and accusations he lied under oath.

In one exchange in January, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., asked Sessions the following question:

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Lawmakers unhappy that replacement bill is being shown only to GOP committee members, in a basement.

03/02/17 12:24 PM

CNN just published a story alleging that the intelligence community provided documents to the president-elect last week, that included information that “Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump.” These documents also allegedly say “there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government.” … if it’s true, it’s obviously extremely serious, and if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?

Sessions responded thusly, Senator Franken, I’m not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment on it.”

Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., also submitted the following question in writing, “Several of the President-elect’s nominees or senior advisers have Russian ties. Have you been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election, either before or after election day?”

Sessions wrote a simple: “No.”

Though several Democratic lawmakers and journalists say Sessions’ responses prove he clearly perjured himself, it’s important to note the questions he answered were framed in terms of whether members of the Trump campaign communicated with the Russians.

Sessions can claim no, and still be telling the truth so long as he notes his reported interactions with the Russian ambassador occurred in his capacity as a U.S. senator, and not as a campaign surrogate.

This is exactly what the AG is doing.

“There was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer,” during the confirmation process, noting that he had over 25 conversations with ambassadors as a member of the Armed Services Committee,” Sessions’ spokeswoman, Sarah Isgur Flores, said in a statement Wednesday.

She added, “He was asked during the hearing about communications between Russia and the Trump campaign — not about meetings he took as a senator and a member of the Armed Services Committee.”

The AG himself added later that he’d, “never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign. I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.”

These defenses appear to be accurate. They also don’t inspire me with total confidence in the nation’s top lawmaker.

I understand Sessions answered only what was asked of him, and that he responded within the specific boundaries of whether the Trump campaign communicated with the Russians during the election. But offering replies that come with the silent disclaimer that, yeah, he actually talked to the Russian ambassador, but he was wearing his senator’s hat then, and not his campaign surrogate hat, is the sort of legalese that defined much of the Clinton years.

I’m about as fond of “I did not have communications with the Russians*” [*except for when I did, but that was in my capacity as a senator] as I am, “It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”

The AG’s answers don’t appear to be wrong, and they appear to be legally correct. But they don’t come across as honest. They look like he’s being withholding, which is about the last thing I’m looking for in a law enforcement officer.

All I’m asking here is for the same people defending Sessions’ very carefully parsed answers to answer this question: Would you accept similar defenses from former AGs Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch if they were found in a similar situation?


Be honest with yourself.



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