About a two months ago, when then-Senator Jeff Sessions was auditioning for his new job as Attorney General of the United States, I wrote here that the Alabaman was calm, cool, collected and prepared to withstand the intense scrutiny that Judiciary Committee Democrats would inevitably heave on him. I said at the time that, far from his previous confirmation hearing in front of the Senate in 1986, when his nomination for a federal judgeship was torpedoed after allegations of racism, Sessions “came away from the six-hour hearing practically unscathed.” He answered the questions calmly, pledged to uphold laws that he voted against as a senator (like the prohibition on waterboarding during interrogations of terrorism suspects) and attempted to assure his former colleagues that he was a man of his word who would enforce the law of the land with the utmost integrity and honesty.
And I bought it.
RELATED: There are a lot of reasons to be upset about Jeff Sessions, but this Russia thing may not be one of them
Courtesy of the Washington Post,
which first broke the story
, we now learn that Sessions had at least two conversations with Russia’s Ambassador to the U.S. during the 2016 campaign — the same ambassador that got former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn into trouble when he failed to disclose information about their meetings to Vice President Mike Pence. These meetings are in direct contradiction to the comments he made to the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearing, where he said that he had zero interactions with Russian officials. Jeff Sessions not only kept his conversations with the Russian Ambassador to himself but led members of the committee to believe that he was far removed from the swirling controversy that is the Donald Trump-Russia story.
To put it bluntly, it looks like Sessions flat-out lied under oath (which the senator still denies when he announced he was recusing himself of any investigations related to Russia and the election on Thursday).
Explanations from Justice Department press aides that Sessions did no such thing are ludicrous. According to a Sessions spokeswoman
, what the Attorney General told the committee was in line with the facts. In the alternative universe that Sessions and his aides live in, “[t]here was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer,” because Sessions wasn’t talking to the Russian Ambassador as a member of the Trump campaign, but as a member of the Armed Services Committee. Never mind that Sessions knows from his two decades of experience in Washington politics that the stench of campaign surrogate doesn’t magically leave his body when he returns to his Senate office.
The only thing worse than DoJ’s stab at damage control is the White House’s insistence that this entire ordeal is orchestrated by Democrats and former officials in the Barack Obama administration in a master plan to destroy the Trump administration. While there may be something to the theory that Obama partisans in the Justice Department are pushing this latest story, it doesn’t mean that the story about Sessions is any less disturbing.
For those of us in the middle who don’t agree with every position that Sessions may have taken but were nonetheless willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, the Washington Post report last night is a big dent to our confidence. If we can’t assume that the men and women who are responsible for upholding our laws are straight to their congressional overseers and to the American public, how can the wide gulf of trust between Americans and their political leaders be halted? If we can’t trust the attorney general to do the right thing — being honest and forthcoming when under oath and under threat of perjury is not too much to ask — whom can we trust?
In his January confirmation hearings, Jeff Sessions was able to convince me that he would be an Attorney General free of baggage and above reproach. Today, Sessions has played me, many moderates and the entire Senate Judiciary Committee for fools.