Attorney General Jeff Sessions had two prior rendezvous with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that weren’t disclosed during his confirmation process. Is it bad optics-wise? Yes. But let’s look at the questions.
Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) asked Sessions what if evidence showing that Trump surrogates had contact with the Russians was discovered during the 2016 election, what would he do as AG?
FRANKEN: 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.” Again, I’m telling you this as it’s coming out, so, you know.
But 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: 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) was more direct in his letter to 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 replied No.
From Feinstein's office, so it's official: Judiciary Dems are requesting Sessions come back and testify again https://t.co/TkBJsOnggp— Betsy Woodruff (@woodruffbets) March 3, 2017
He did have contact with the Russian ambassador, but it seems to be in his capacity as a member of the Armed Services Committee, which is not unorthodox. Members of Congress from both chambers meet with foreign officials often. Regardless, Sessions has made the decision to recuse himself from any investigation that deals with the president’s campaign. Still, scores of congressional Democrats have called on him to resign. The attorney general said that he intends to write a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee clarifying further his testimony, but Senate Democrats on the committee ahs penned a letter to chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) asking him to bring Sessions back for more testimony.
The Attorney General's recusal announcement is a welcome first step, but it leaves many significant questions unanswered.
The Attorney General's responses to our questions during his confirmation process were, at best, incomplete and misleading. Unfortunately, he has not explained why he failed to come forward and correct the record before reports of his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak became public, why there was a delay in recusing himself until those public disclosures, and why he only recused himself with respect to campaign-related investigations and not Russian contacts with the Trump transition team and administration. Given the seriousness of this matter, we do not believe that a written submission to correct the record is sufficient.
Members need to hear directly from the Attorney General as well as have the opportunity to ask him questions in public. We therefore ask that you schedule a hearing for Attorney General Sessions to appear before the Committee.
From what we know so far, it looks like Sessions will not face perjury charges. Moreover, some, like The Washington Post’s Philip Bump, seem to feel that the liberal hysteria over this incident may lead to Democrats overplaying their hand.
Leahy asked about communications about the election. Franken asked about communications as a campaign surrogate. Sessions told the truth.— Sean Davis (@seanmdav) March 2, 2017
Talked to two former federal prosecutors: Sessions won't face perjury charges based on the evidence at hand. https://t.co/sQW783zaSc— Philip Bump (@pbump) March 2, 2017
Put together a timeline on what Sessions did and said, and am now thinking that Dems are overplaying their hand. https://t.co/qSyBftV9Lf— Philip Bump (@pbump) March 2, 2017