We know that Jeff Sessions lied to the Senate about his contacts with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak, not primarily because of any news report, but because Sessions recused himself from the investigation due to his false testimony. Yesterday’s open hearing in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee brought a new round of lies.
Now, to be fair to our Attorney General, it does not seem as if he stated any outright falsehoods in front of the Senate like he did before; but obfuscating the truth is still a form of lying, and that is exactly what Sessions did yesterday. If you drank every time Sessions said “I don’t recall,” you would be dead by now. The entire crux behind his stonewalling came down to executive privilege, which is a legal declaration that allows the president to withhold information in the public interest. This is not some amorphous term, but one that the president must formally invoke. Jeff Sessions testified under oath that President Trump did not invoke executive privilege, yet he refused to answer an avalanche of questions surrounding his communications with Donald Trump, de facto invoking executive privilege despite not formally doing it de jure. In short, Sessions tried to have his cake and eat it too.
The Independent Senator from Maine, Angus King, saw what he was doing, and nailed him to the wall with his own contradiction. This entire four and a half minute video is a perfect summary of the hearing, but around the 1:50 mark is where it gets really good.
Look at Sessions' face when he realizes the corner that King has painted him in to.
Additionally, Sessions revealing that he was not briefed on Russian efforts to influence the 2016 may be his most shocking admission to date. Yesterday's testimony did not depict a man who was certain of the facts of his case. Jeff Sessions stonewalled and evaded coherent answers at every turn, and even the most conservative commentators could not believe what they were witnessing.
While evading these questions, Jeff Sessions continued to cite a “long-standing” policy in the Department of Justice that protects conversations with the president, yet when pressed by multiple senators—Democrat, Independent and Republican—he did not cite the specific statue. If this were one small portion of his testimony, it would not be as big of a deal, but his entire evasiveness was centered around this “long-standing DOJ policy.” If you were going to pin your entire non-testimony to one policy, wouldn't you be able to cite it?
Additionally, last week, James Comey told the Senate in his confidential hearing that there was a third meeting between the Attorney General and Sergei Kislyak that Jeff Sessions did not disclose. In his testimony, Sessions played the “I do not recall card” on this issue too, and intimated that this meeting was merely a consequence of happenstance—if he remembered it of course. However, BBC's Senior North America reporter called bullshit on that naive narrative.
And this is not the only obfuscation perpetrated by our nation's chief lawman. Here is a sampling of contradictory quotes from Jeff Sessions' testimony.
— “We met a couple of times, maybe.” — On whether Sessions met with Trump's foreign policy team.
— “I came there as an interested person.” — In response to a question about why he attended Trump's major foreign policy speech at the Mayflower hotel where Kislyak was present (at that point he was the chair of Trump's National Security Advisory Board—so he was much more than just an “interested person”).
— “I possibly could have had a meeting, but I do not recall it.” — In response to whether he met with Kislyak at the Mayflower Hotel.
— “I don't think I had any direct involvement.” — In response to a question about altering the GOP platform as it relates to assistance to Ukraine.
— “I basically recused myself the first day I got into office.” — In response to a question about his involvement in the Russian investigation (He actually recused himself about a month in to his term).
— “Well I am unable to answer the question.” — In response to Kamala Harris' line of questioning about what specific DOJ statute he was citing as the reason behind his litany of non-answers.
Additionally, when presented with James Comey's “problematic” line from his open hearing from last week as it related to Sessions' continued involvement in the Russian investigation, he propped up the administration's favorite strawman, and decried leaks.
Note that he called Comey's assertion “innuendo” and did not outright deny anything that Comey said in open session, and he simply pushed back against the press reports that Comey disclosed a third undisclosed meeting between Sessions and Kislyak. He did not even deny that it took place, simply muddying the waters. This is important, because if he did say that Comey lied, then that means that either Sessions or Comey perjured themselves, and this would likely lead to subpoenas, which would force both of them to discuss this issue much more candidly.
Sessions' entire testimony painted a picture of a man consciously avoiding the questions he was brought there to answer. When the Republicans who were there to run interference for Trump asked him questions (like Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, who perpetrated one of the most cynical instances of grandstanding that you will ever see), he had a clear memory and responded with concise answers. When Democrats (or Republicans like Marco Rubio) asked him difficult questions that got to the heart of the relationship between the Trump campaign and Russia, Sessions' memory suddenly failed him, and he tended to ramble, seemingly trying to run out the clock on their questioning.
I did not expect much out of this hearing. I thought Sessions would avoid answering any questions, but I figured that he would cite classified information or use some other acceptable obfuscation. Instead, he outright refused to answer questions, citing “long-standing DOJ policy” to not disclose his conversations with the president (save for one response to Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, where he said it was “my judgement”). However, he revealed a conversation he had with the president to Angus King, and despite repeated questioning from both parties, did not cite the specific statue he so heavily leaned on. This was some sketchy shit, and under no circumstances should anyone believe that this laid the issue of collusion to rest. If anything, the matter became even more suspicious after Sessions’ dodgy testimony.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.