Trump Attorney General Jeff Sessions is the latest figure to come under heavy fire from the media and the left thanks to his reported meetings with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, in September of 2016, while Sessions was serving in the Senate. Those meetings have resulted in a number of top Republicans, including Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-AZ) and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) calling for Sessions to recuse himself from any investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged contacts with the Russian government.
So, what did Sessions do wrong, if anything?
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Sessions Testified He Hadn’t Met With The Russians. This is a controversial proposition, because it’s unclear whether Sessions was testifying that he hadn’t met with the Russians in relation to the Trump campaign, or whether he testified that he hadn’t met them at all – even though he did meet Kislyak twice in 2016. In a January 10 confirmation hearing, Senator Al Franken (D-MN) asked what Sessions would do if he learned of communications with the Russians from the Trump campaign. Sessions said, “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.” Is that a denial of any contact, or a denial of contact as a surrogate? The language is vague.
At the same time, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) asked Sessions in writing, “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 responded, “No.” Sessions issued a statement saying he did not meet with “any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign. I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.”
2. Sessions Met With The Russian Ambassador Twice. Sessions’ meetings with Kislyak are the source of confusion, too. Is it normal for a member of the Armed Services Committee in the Senate to meet with the Russian ambassador? Sessions’ team says that Sessions met with more than 25 foreign ambassadors while in the Senate; 20 lawmakers with the Armed Services Committee told the Washington Post they did not meet with the Russian ambassador last year. But Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO), who said she’d never met with the Russian ambassador, met with him in 2013.
3. Democrats Are Calling For His Resignation. Of course, Democrats are overplaying their hand, not calling for Sessions’ recusal alone, but for his resignation. That’s asinine. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said, “After lying under oath to Congress about his communications with the Russians, the Attorney General must resign.” She was joined in that call by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), among others. Obama Attorney General Eric Holder didn’t resign despite a scandal-plagued career that resulted in him being held in contempt of Congress; his successor, Loretta Lynch, wouldn’t even recuse herself from the investigation into Hillary Clinton after meeting with Bill Clinton on a plane on a tarmac during the 2016 campaign.
4. Trump Says It’s A Partisan Hit Job. A statement from White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders stated, “This is the latest attack against the Trump Administration by partisan Democrats. 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. It’s no surprise Senator Al Franken is pushing this story immediately following President Trump’s successful address to the nation.”
So, what should happen here? There are good arguments both ways. On the one hand, there’s a solid argument for recusal even if Sessions did nothing wrong – just as Republican said about Loretta Lynch’s Clinton meeting, his impartiality has been compromised here, and Americans are unlikely to believe the outcome of an investigation he leads. On the other hand, Trump officials slammed with silly charges and disallowed from doing their jobs by minor slip-ups could quickly give Congressional Democrats and the media veto power over the operations of the executive branch.
Until there’s a full investigation on the Trump-Russia connections, many of which have been dramatically overblown, it’s likely better for Sessions to recuse. But it’s just another reason for such an investigation to take place quickly and thoroughly, so Americans can move on and the Trump administration can operate free of the black cloud following it.