The Democrats and their media are making a big push to portray Attorney General Jeff Sessions as a Russian agent, or at least catch him in a perjury trap, because they had to talk about something other than President Trump’s address to Congress until the weekend news cycle kicks in.
One cannot overstate how bothered POTUS will be by this Sessions story (with GOPers now calling for recusal) stepping on his good news cycle
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) March 2, 2017
One cannot overstate how obviously that is the point of all this, Mr. Tapper.
Here are some reasons the Sessions witch hunt is ridiculous:
1. Democrats thought misleading Congress was no big deal until today: Call it an example of “whataboutism” if you will, but it bears noting for the record that Democrats were quick to dismiss blatantly false statements to Congress from such individuals as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, and Sessions’ predecessor Attorney General Eric Holder as trivial errors. And, of course, Democrats launched an all-out jihad against the very concept of perjury to keep Bill Clinton in power in the Nineties.
In each case, congressional Democrats showed the maximum possible indulgence to Obama administration officials, blithely accepting every claim of imperfect memory, misunderstanding of questions, and even rank incompetence as acceptable excuses. Holder’s defense against perjury charges amounted to a confession that he did not read his email and had no idea what anyone connected to the horrifying Operation Fast and Furious scandal was doing. Clinton’s evasions in her use of a secret email server are legendary. The server itself was essentially a mechanism for misleading Congress about her activities on a constant basis.
This is not merely a double standard, although it is always worth pointing those out when they appear because the DNC Media refuses to do so. Democrats made a sustained argument over the course of President Obama’s eight years in office that one should make every possible allowance for imperfect memory, flawed record-keeping, and honest misunderstandings. They claimed Republicans used their investigatory powers to make mountains out molehills. Now they want to take all that back because they think they can inflict some damage on the Trump administration, and keep their “Russia stole the election!” narrative alive, by parsing Jeff Sessions’ words with an electron microscope.
2. Sessions did not commit perjury: Robert Barnes at LawNewz reviews the relevant statutes, and hammers the point that Democrats were quick to sweep them aside when there was far stronger evidence their own officials lied to Congress:
The criminal law only prohibits lying to Congress under two statutes — 18 USC 1621 ands 18 USC 1001. Section 1621 requires a person “willfully and contrary” to a sworn oath “subscribe a material matter” which is both false and the person knows to be false. Section 1001 is basically the same, without certain tribunal prerequisites: it also requires the government prove a person willfully made a materially false statement. This requires three elements: first, a false statement; second, the false statement be “material”; and third, the false statement be made “knowingly” and “willfully.” A statement is not false if it can be interpreted in an innocent manner. A statement is not material if it is not particularly relevant to the subject of the inquiry. Willfully is a very high standard of proof: it requires the person know they are committing the crime, and do so anyway. None of the three exist as to Sessions.
There was strong evidence Hillary Clinton made false statements to Congress about a range of subjects concerning the emails, and evidence she knew they were false. She still was not prosecuted, and Professors like Laurence Tribe recommended her for the Presidency. There was strong evidence James Clapper lied to Congress about the NSA spying on Americans, and he was not prosecuted, but promoted by President Obama, without complaint from many of these same liberal lawyers, professors and journalists. Yet, these same “lawyers” and “journalists” now attack Sessions for what is manifestly not a criminal act, and for which they never demanded any inquiry of either Clinton or Clapper.
Their only claim against Sessions is that Sessions, while Senator, talked to the Russian ambassador a whopping 2 times in 2016. That’s called doing his job. Senator Franken, during the Attorney General confirmation proceedings, talked about “ties to Russia” and asked if Senator Session had discussed the Trump campaign “with Russian government officials.” Sessions answered he had not. Sessions has no “ties with Russia” and there is no evidence he discussed the Trump campaign with any Russian official. The attempt to conflate Sessions doing his job as a Senator — meeting with ambassadors — as meaning he must have talked about campaign tactics or the campaign at all is patently ludicrous.
Barnes reproduces the exact exchange between Franken and Sessions: Franken asked if there had been a “continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government.” Sessions replied, “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 Russians, and I’m unable to comment on it.”
Nothing about that statement constitutes a false claim that Sessions never communicated with a single Russian in his life. If Franken wanted to build a perjury trap, he should have done a better job of it – but of course, at the time, the Democrats were primarily interested in pumping hot air into their “Russia stole the election from Hillary!” balloon.
Jeff Sessions was very well aware of that fact when he responded to Franken. As noted by Erick Erickson – a man who knows a nothingburger when he smells one sizzling on the media grill, even though he supports investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election – Franken’s warm-up to the question made it very clear Sessions’ role in the Trump campaign was under discussion.
The question of “literally accurate but possibly misleading” answers was litigated all the way to the Supreme Court, long ago, and found to come up short of perjury. In that case, the dubious statements were more deliberately misleading than anything Sessions said, but the perjury dice still came up snake eyes.
3. Meeting with ambassadors was Part of Sessions’ job: Barnes notes that Sessions met with over 20 ambassadors in 2016, in addition to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. As Erickson notes, Kislyak was one of fifty ambassadors Sessions once addressed in a single event at the Heritage Foundation.
In a chronology of the Sessions affair published by the Washington Post, the Heritage panel Erickson refers to is described as focused on “Russia’s incursions into Ukraine and Georgia.” The moderator noted that “several ambassadors asked for names of people who might impact foreign policy under Trump.” Kislyak was one of a “small group of foreign dignitaries” who approached Sessions at the event. Whatever one thinks of the nations represented by each of these dignitaries, they were doing what all ambassadors do.
Incidentally, the author of that Washington Post timeline, Philip Bump, said he thinks “Democrats are overplaying their hand” after completing his analysis.
4. Other senators met with ambassadors, including Kislyak: Sessions was hardly the only member of the Senate Armed Services Committee to meet with ambassadors, or even with Kislyak:
— Josh Rogin (@joshrogin) March 2, 2017
Senator Joe Manchin, for those keeping score, is a Democrat. So is Senator Claire McCaskill, who appears to be having one of those oh-so-convenient memory blackouts that afflict Democrats at crucial moments:
There is also a highly inconvenient photo of Kislyak meeting with several Senators, including McCaskill and other Democrats, going around online:
— Ian Prior (@iprior1177) March 2, 2017
Shouldn’t Democrats be calling in unison for McCaskill to resign for blatantly lying about her contacts with the Russian ambassador, to prove how serious they are about pursuing Sessions? Shouldn’t the media be hounding her about it? Or do they just assume integrity is a laughing matter when it comes to Democrats, and certain standards apply only to Republicans?
A great many meetings between Democrats and Russian diplomats occurred when they were pushing the Iran nuclear deal. Does the Democrat Party really want to launch a national discussion about whether such meetings are inappropriate, or whether failing to announce them from the rooftops is tantamount to lying about them?
5. Democrats were happy to let Obama transition team wear different hats for foreign meetings: Obama 2008 campaign officials took meetings with foreign representatives, including those of Hamas and Iran, but were allowed to dismiss controversy by claiming those meetings were part of their other jobs. Democrats now say Sessions was not allowed to respond to Franken in the obvious, clearly-stated context of his position with the Trump 2016 campaign without also including his every action as a senator.
6. Sessions did not “conceal” meetings with Kislyak: The game played today by many media outlets is to bury, or completely omit, the question Sessions was actually responding to in his exchange with Franken, and blithely assume he “failed to disclose” crucial information.
Watch how the New York Times smoothly transitions from admitting Sessions did nothing wrong, to manufacturing a hazy standard that he needed to answer questions he wasn’t asked in order to be “truthful and complete”:
A spokeswoman for Mr. Sessions says that “there was absolutely nothing misleading” about his answer because he did not communicate with the ambassador in his capacity as a Trump campaign surrogate. His contacts with the Russian ambassador, he claims, were made in his capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
That may or may not have been the case (individual senators ordinarily do not discuss committee business with ambassadors of other countries, particularly our adversaries). Regardless, Mr. Sessions did not truthfully and completely testify. If he had intended to say that his contacts with the Russians had been in his capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and not for the Trump campaign, he could have said that. He then would have been open to the very relevant line of questioning about what those contacts were, and why he was unilaterally talking with the ambassador of a country that was a longstanding adversary of the United States.
He did not reveal the communications at all, however. He did so knowing that Senator Franken was asking about communications with the Russians by anyone working for the Trump campaign, including people who, like Mr. Sessions, had other jobs while they volunteered for the Trump campaign.
The Times have mutated the subject of Sessions’ testimony to “communications” by people who “had other jobs while they volunteered for the Trump campaign.” But the question was about contacts between the campaign and the Russians, not every conversation, about anything, in any professional capacity, by everyone who helped with the campaign, with everyone born in Russia.
It is very common for people testifying before Congress to answer precisely the questions they are asked, without volunteering all sorts of other information the questioner might find interesting later on.
In fact, McCaskill is using that very defense at this moment to explain why she did not mention the many times she has been photographed meeting with Kislyak and other foreign representatives when she claimed never to have done so. She is saying those meetings were not germane to the point she wanted to make – exactly as Jeff Sessions maintains.
Sessions spokeswoman Sara Isgur Flores stressed that Sessions was not “misleading” Congress because he was specifically “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.”
That is not a dodge, it is the simple truth, and every single dishonest Democrat going after Sessions knows it. Many of them have indulged in the same kind of conversations with foreign ambassadors as Sessions, in line with their committee memberships. The likes of Minority Leader Chuck Schumer are feigning shock at discovering something that’s been going on outside their doors since the day they arrived on Capitol Hill.
7. Democrats want more than just Sessions’ scalp: Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) has this exactly right:
There is zero evidence to suggest Sessions acted inappropriately for doing his job as a senior member of the Armed Services Committee. 1/2
— Rep. Paul Gosar, DDS (@RepGosar) March 2, 2017
To interpret Sessions’ answers during his confirmation hearing as "lying to Congress" requires a stunning level of ignorance & deceit. 2/2
— Rep. Paul Gosar, DDS (@RepGosar) March 2, 2017
If Sessions is sacrificed to appease the Democrat-media swarm, it will be taken as confirmation that Sessions did act inappropriately, not just that he failed to meet some hair-splitting standard of full disclosure with Franken. (You can already see how the media is growing reluctant to mention that this entire “scandal” is based on a single question and the two-sentence reply.)
The media would also interpret a Sessions resignation as a confession that he did discuss some nefarious scheme to “hack” the 2016 election with Russia’s ambassador. Democrats would frenzy, shrieking about “blood in the water” and drawing up lists of the targets they want their media pals to go after next, if they do not have those lists written up already. There might already be some people in the Trump White House regretting that they did not fight harder to save National Security Adviser Mike Flynn, whose name pops up in many stories about Sessions, with reminders that he only resigned two weeks ago.
The Obama White House mastered the art of slow-walking scandals because they feared the cascade effect of revelations and harmful developments in rapid succession. Even nonsense stories can snowball if they happen fast enough. The pace will pick up dramatically if Democrats get more than the two-day distraction from Trump’s address to Congress they were hoping for when they launched this silly attack on Jeff Sessions.