The Uncut Sessions
Jeff Sessions has been secretly playing in a band with Russians. But now those uncut sessions are out in the open. Or, in other words, attorney general Jeff Sessions, who told the Senate he had no contacts with Russian officials, had actually met twice with the Russian ambassador to the United States during the presidential campaign.
The then Senator of Alabama Jeff Sessions spoke twice last year with the Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak once in September in the senator’s office during the time that Russian cyber hackers were trying to influence the presidential race and once in July of 2016. Kislyak’s phone communications with US national security adviser Michael Flynn before Trump’s inauguration were also the reason that on 14 February Flynn was forced to resign. Flynn failed to disclose to Vice President Mike Pence his conversations with Kislyak.
Sessions’ secret discussions could spark new congressional proposals for investigations into Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election. Sessions’ position is sensitive, since as an attorney general, he supervises the Justice Department and the FBI which have been investigating the alleged Russian connections to Trump’s aides. Sessions has made no effort to excuse himself from his position due to the obvious conflict of interest and lack of impartiality. A spokesperson, talking on his behalf, confirmed the two meetings but said that Sessions didn’t talk about the election campaign to the Russian ambassador. The statement said: “I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign. I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.”
During his two meetings with Kislyak, Sessions was a senior member of the Armed Services Committee and Trump’s top foreign policy adviser. On 10 January, during his Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing, Sessions was asked by Sen. Al Franken what he would do if anyone in Trump’s campaign was linked to Russia. He 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 the Russians.” Retrospectively, we know that Sessions and Flynn, and perhaps others have lied about their Russian connections. The Trump administration is treading on dangerous ground, amidst allegations of Russian hacking, fake news and misinformation. Sessions admitted that he didn’t consider the questions relevant and that he didn’t recall his conversation with Kislyak.
Sarah Isgur Flores, Sessions’s spokeswoman, said “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.” She also said that he had more than 25 conversations with foreign ambassadors. He not only had communications with the Russian ambassador, but also with British, Korean, Japanese, Polish, Indian, Chinese, Canadian, Australian and German ambassadors. The Russian ambassador didn’t respond to questions about his contacts with Sessions.
Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, asked for Sessions to resign. She said: “After lying under oath to Congress about his own communications with the Russians, the attorney general must resign. Sessions is not fit to serve as the top law enforcement officer of our country and must resign. There must be an independent, bipartisan, outside commission to investigate the Trump political, personal and financial connections to the Russians.”
The White House dismissed Sessions’ connections to Russia and explained that this was an attack against the new government and an attempt to undermine Trump’s speech. A senior administration official said: “This is the latest attack against the Trump administration by partisan Democrats. 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.”
In addition, when the committee was considering his nomination, the Democrat Sen. Patrick J. Leahy had asked Sessions: “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 simply responded with a “No.”
Adam Schiff, the Democrat on the House intelligence committee, asked for Sessions to remove himself from any probe into Trump’s campaign contacts with Russia. He said: “If reports are accurate that Attorney General Sessions – a prominent surrogate for Donald Trump – met with Ambassador Kislyak during the campaign, and failed to disclose this fact during his confirmation, it is essential that he recuse himself from any role in the investigation of Trump campaign ties to the Russians. This is not even a close call; it is a must.”
Another Democrat on the House oversight committee, Elijah Cummings, released a statement demanding Sessions’ “immediate” resignation. Cummings said: “It is inconceivable that even after Michael Flynn was fired for concealing his conversations with the Russians that Attorney General Sessions would keep his own conversations secret for several more weeks.” Cummings added that his testimony was “false” and “yet he let it stand for weeks – and he continued to let it stand even as he watched the president tell the entire nation he didn’t know anything about anyone advising his campaign talking to the Russians.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican, also asked for Sessions to recuse himself from the FBI investigations: “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 this decision about Trump.”
While Republicans didn’t demand an independent investigation into the issue, arguing that they can trust the intelligence committees, Democrats are questioning how transparent these inquiries will be when Trump’s own party controls both chambers of Congress.
The Minnesota Senator Al Franken, the Democrat who brought up the issue of Russian links to Trump’s team during Sessions’ confirmation hearing called him to recuse himself, too. He was troubled about Sessions misleading testimony and said that the “American people deserve to know the truth about what happened between Russia and the Trump team … It’s clearer than ever now 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.”
Sessions’ uncut sessions with a Russian diplomat is another example of the controversial ties of Trump’s campaign to Russia, and one that Trump can’t just dismiss as a lie. It’s becoming a more real possibility that Trump’s presidency, ridden in lies and misinformation, might have a very short life.