Some are accusing Attorney General Jeff Sessions of committing perjury because he denied, under oath to Congress, that he communicated with the Russians.
Sessions stressed he considered perjury a serious matter that strikes at the core of the judicial system during the impeachment trial against former President Bill Clinton. Perjury can be a crime punishable by incarceration.
Sessions is denying he misled Congress, but there’s a growing chorus of calls for him to recuse himself from any investigation into Russia. Some Democrats are also calling for the AG to resign. On March 2, Sessions announced he would recuse himself from any investigations into the presidential campaign.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Sessions Communicated With the Russians Twice During the Presidential Campaign
The Washington Post is now reporting that, according to the Department of Justice, Sessions, as a Republican senator “spoke twice last year with Russia’s ambassador to the United States.” The New York Daily News reports “Sessions was a senior member of the Armed Services Committee and serving as a top foreign political adviser to the Trump campaign at the time.”
However, under oath to the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearing as AG, Sessions denied communicating with the Russians. First, Sen. Al Franken goes into a fairly long winded windup to a question, saying:
CNN has just published a story, and I’m telling you this about a news story that has just been published, so I’m not expecting you to know whether or not it’s true or not, but CNN just published a story alleging that the intelligence community provided documents to the president elect last week that included information that ‘Russian operatives claimed 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.’ Now again I am telling you this as it’s coming out so, ah, 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?
Sen Franken, I am 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 am unable to comment on it.
Here’s the video:
Sessions also responded “no” when asked by Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy 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?” according to the Washington Post.
2. Sessions Called Perjury Allegations Against Bill Clinton ‘Serious’ & Voted to Impeach Him for Perjury
Archival footage from C-SPAN shows then Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, now Attorney General of the United States under President Trump, speaking of the importance of prosecuting Bill Clinton over alleged perjury.
According to the Huffington Post, in 1999, Sessions, then a Republican senator from Alabama, “described perjury claims against President Bill Clinton as ‘serious allegations.’”
Sessions said at that time: “In America, the Supreme Court and the American people believe no one is above the law,” and he voted guilty during Clinton’s impeachment trial on both charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, according to The Huffington Post.
The Post says that Sessions went even farther in stressing the problem of perjury. In 1998, he said about Bill Clinton’s statements about his relationship with intern Monica Lewinsky, “I sort of assumed perjury occurred, but I want to read what was said, what the established fact is, and decide how clear that is and whether or not there is any wriggle room or realistic defense there,” the Huffington Post reported, adding that Sessions described perjury as a “big-time issue” and said: “I have no doubt that perjury qualifies under the Constitution as a high crime. It goes to the heart of the judicial system.”
3. Perjury Is a Crime but Requires Willfulness
Perjury is a crime, and it can be punishable with a prison term. It’s found under 18 U.S. Code § 1621. The code reads as follows:
(1) having taken an oath before a competent tribunal, officer, or person, in any case in which a law of the United States authorizes an oath to be administered, that he will testify, declare, depose, or certify truly, or that any written testimony, declaration, deposition, or certificate by him subscribed, is true, willfully and contrary to such oath states or subscribes any material matter which he does not believe to be true; or
(2) in any declaration, certificate, verification, or statement under penalty of perjury as permitted under section 1746 of title 28, United States Code, willfully subscribes as true any material matter which he does not believe to be true;
is guilty of perjury and shall, except as otherwise expressly provided by law, be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both. This section is applicable whether the statement or subscription is made within or without the United States.
However, it can also be an offense that is difficult to prove because of the requirement that the perjury be “willful.”
Sessions could claim he forgot he spoke to the ambassador, for example, although some might find that hard to believe.
4. The ACLU Is Demanding That Sessions Be Investigated for Perjury
According to the Hill, the American Civil Liberties Union wants an investigation into whether Sessions committed perjury.
“Jeff Sessions took an oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and it is now clear that he broke that oath in his confirmation hearing,” Anthony D. Romero, the ACLU’s executive director, said to the Hill. “This matter must not and cannot be seen as a partisan issue, as it goes to the heart of the credibility of our democracy.”
He continued, the Hill reported: “The American people deserve a full investigation into whether Sessions perjured himself and if he is indeed fit to serve as our nation’s highest law enforcement official. No one is above the law.”
5. Sessions Denies Wrongdoing, Saying He Did Not Communicate With the Russians About the Trump Campaign
According to Slate, Sessions’ spokesperson denies that he lied to Congress, saying “there was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer,” because Sessions “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.”
The Post reported that one of the meetings was “a private conversation between Sessions and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that took place in September in the senator’s office.” Sessions also spoke with Kislyak in July, the Post reported, but his spokesman has denied he misled Congress and told the Post that Sessions did “not consider the conversations relevant to the lawmakers’ questions.”
Democrats want Sessions to quit.
In addition to the September meeting in his office, The Chicago Tribune reported of a July contact: “Sessions attended a Heritage Foundation event in July on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention that was attended by roughly 50 ambassadors. When the event was over, a small group of ambassadors approached Sessions as he was leaving the podium, and Kislyak was among them, the Justice Department official said. Sessions then spoke individually to some of the ambassadors, including Kislyak, the official said.”
According to CNN, Sessions said in a statement, “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.”