First it was Andrew Puzder. Then it was Michael Flynn. Now, it seems that Attorney General Jeff Sessions is the next cabinet pick under extreme scrutiny in Mr. Trump’s administration. On March 2, 2017, it came to light that Mr. Sessions had been less than forthcoming about his communications with Russian officials during Mr. Trump’s campaign.
The U.S. Justice Department confirmed Mr. Sessions met with the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergei Kislyak in July and September in his role as Senator on the Armed Services Committee. This is the same ambassador with whom Mr. Flynn met during the campaign and also failed to disclose. He was asked twice about any contacts with Russian officials and both times he denied any contact. He claims that any comments he made were strictly related to his role on the Trump campaign team, while his opponents claim he lied under oath – or aggravated perjury. Of course, this is made even more interesting with the knowledge that Mr. Sessions has so far overseen the investigation on the intersection with Russian officials and the Trump campaign in his role as attorney general. Democrats have called for him to resign and step aside from the investigation. Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi has said Mr. Sessions is not fit to serve as the top law enforcement officer of the country. This news comes just after the House Intelligence committee agreed to scrutinize the contacts and relationship between Mr. Trump, his campaign and Moscow.
So, what does this really mean for Sessions? Is he going down? Well, he might have some issues politically, but there probably is not enough information at this point to pursue any criminal charges. There is likely too much ambiguity in his response as to whether he had communications with Russia as a Trump surrogate or as a Senator. Therefore, there probably won’t be any perjury charges coming down the pipe. However, in light of the fact that 20 of the 26 senators on the same committee did not meet with the Russian ambassador at all, much less twice in a series of a few months, continues to stir up controversy about the ties Mr. Trump and his surrogates have with Moscow. The first meeting with Mr. Kislyak occurred first in July, during a think-tank event with around 50 other ambassadors during the Republican National Convention. The second meeting should cause more consternation amongst his opponents – it was a private meeting between then-Senator Sessions and Mr. Kislyak on September 8. Another story has broken that Jared Kushner met with Mr. Kislyak last summer, in the same meetings with Mr. Flynn.
After calls for recusal began coming from the Republican half of the Congress, Mr. Sessions prudently determined to recuse himself from any Russian investigation and investigations into any accusations stemming from the Trump campaign. Of course, failing to clarify his role in the Senate in response to direct questions from fellow Senators is shady, if not completely misleading, but is arguably simply politics as usual in Washington. The case for perjury will be difficult, and since he has already recused himself, Mr. Sessions has done what he can to diffuse the controversy. However, where there is smoke, there is fire, and each day there are more shadows crossing the threshold of Mr. Trump’s presidency – all of them having a decidedly Russian tint. Time will tell what exactly the relationship between Trump, his surrogates and Moscow actually is.