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Did Sessions Do Anything Wrong?

We are entering into a politically charged environment where ordinary interactions between senior government officials and their foreign counterparts can quickly become toxic.

Incoming National Security Advisor Michael Flynn did nothing wrong when he spoke to Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak. It is just as evident that Sen. Jeff Sessions did nothing wrong when he spoke twice [1] to the same gentleman in the context of his membership on the Senate Armed Services Committee. The first Sessions meeting in June was part of a conference organized by the State Department and the Heritage Foundation that included 50 ambassadors. Sessions was the keynote speaker and was approached by some of the ambassadors afterwards, including the Russian envoy.

The second meeting in September took place in Sessions’s office. There were staffers present at the meeting, which was held in a Senate building because Sessions had turned down a request by the ambassador for a private lunch, which he considered inappropriate. No one is claiming that anything discussed at either meeting was in any way incriminating or damaging to national security. According to Republican Congressman Devin Nunes, FBI investigators have reportedly gone farther than that, having already indicated to the House and Senate intelligence committees that there is “no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow.” That conclusion has, however, been challenged by Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, who countered that the investigation is still in its initial stages.

Flynn was forced to step down after a campaign of vilification orchestrated by some senior officials at CIA and NSA, possibly acting on behalf of the outgoing Obama administration, though the actual issue that led to his resignation was a reported failure to be completely honest with Vice President Mike Pence regarding his phone calls with Kislyak. Whether that was an oversight or deliberate remains to be determined, but the Trump administration clearly decided that it was not a fight worth engaging in given the superheated media coverage that it produced.

The Sessions story is somewhat different, though it too includes hysterical reactions from the media and also from some leading Democrats. The controversy surrounding Sessions is based on a single question asked by Sen. Al Franken, “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?”

Sessions responded that he was “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’m unable to comment on it.”

Explanations of what Sessions did or not mean have generally taken two approaches. If you believe Sessions was discussing how Moscow might help defeat Hillary, was he was hiding something nefarious? Or, if you believe he was innocent, was he honestly responding to Franken’s apparent focus on contact with Russians as an element in the campaign?

As I believe the entire narrative seeking to portray the Trump victory as some kind of Manchurian-candidate scheme concocted by the Kremlin is complete nonsense, I tend to believe Sessions was answering honestly, after interpreting the question in a certain fashion. His spokesman has described the exchange as: “He 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.”

It is important to note that Sessions was not part of the Trump campaign staff, which explains his answer to Senator Franken. It would have been nice if he had begun his response to by noting that he has had intermittent interaction with Russian officials as part of his responsibilities in the Senate and then gone on to state that there had been no such contact that he was aware of as part of the campaign. But he did not do that, which has opened the door to the current politically-motivated firestorm.

What is particularly disturbing about the attack on Sessions is the hypocrisy evidenced by congressmen like Charles Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, who are demanding that the attorney general resign because they claim he committed perjury. Answering questions in such a way as to avoid saying too much is a fine art in Washington—a skill that both Schumer and Pelosi have themselves also developed—but it does not amount to perjury. Sessions’s answer to Franken is not completely clear, but it is not an out-and-out lie. In that respect the attack on Sessions is like the attack on Flynn, basically a way of getting at and weakening President Donald Trump by opportunistically discrediting his high-level appointments.

That Sessions has now recused himself from anything having to do with Russia may be politically advisable, at least in part, to quell the outrage in the media and among nearly all Democrats and the usual caballero Republicans. But the original demands were inappropriate, as no one has demonstrated that Sessions has in some way worked with a foreign power to damage the national security of the United States. He is being tried by innuendo and in the cooperative media.

And then there is the even more disturbing Russian aspect to all of this. Sessions’s staff noted that as a senior senator on the Armed Services Committee, he met with 25 ambassadors. Why aren’t Schumer and Pelosi asking for a list of all those contacts? Ambassadors are doing their jobs when they represent their nations’ interests, which include working against some U.S. policies and trying to get foreign officials to reveal sensitive information “off the record.” Russia does indeed do that, but so do many countries that are regarded as close friends.

Russia is yet again being singled out for political reasons, even though Moscow and Washington are not at war. The evidence that Vladimir Putin has been somehow interfering in U.S. politics is definitely on the thin side and apparently not about to get any better. And fooling with Russia can be dangerous as it is the only country on earth that can destroy the United States. Nevertheless, in spite of that, there are many in the Democratic Party and the media who would like to make Russia something like a permanent enemy, to sustain the warfare state while also having a punching bag that can be blamed for whatever else might be going wrong.

One might reasonably consider the attacks on Sessions to be less about him and more about both Trump himself and Russia. Indeed, Trump and Russia are conjoined as the impending investigation into Moscow’s possible role in the election is also by its very nature a way to begin a process that would reverse the Trump electoral victory. Implicating yet another senior government official as a possible Kremlin patsy—and pressing ahead with a broader, bipartisan inquiry into the alleged subversion of the Trump campaign by Moscow—will narrow the president’s options for any reset with Russia while weakening his administration.

I note that President Trump has appointed [2] hardliner Fiona Hill as his point person for dealing with Russia on the National Security Council. It is a bad move and possibly a sign that the relentless pressure regarding Moscow is beginning to bear fruit, forcing Trump to backtrack on his campaign promises to seek a reset with Putin.

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is executive director of the Council for the National Interest.

76 Comments (Open | Close)

76 Comments To "Did Sessions Do Anything Wrong?"

#1 Comment By Michael N. Moore On March 4, 2017 @ 10:11 am

Russia has been our imperial rival since 1944. When it was the Soviet Union, secular leftists were under suspicion of collusion. Now that Russia is run by a socially conservative unapologetic Christian, it is US Christian conservatives who have fallen under suspicion.
If you get in the way of the imperial elite and the military industrial complex they will get you.

#2 Comment By Charles Andrews On March 4, 2017 @ 10:52 am

The question Frankenstein asked was whether Session had any contact the the Russians concerning the campaign specifically not as part of his Armed Forces Committee assignedment. One reported meeting was a brief encounter with other people at the Republican convention. There are multiple reasons why Session would meet with any Ambassador much more the Russian Ambassador other than the campaign. Meanwhile, this same Ambassador met with the Obama administration 22 time in the WH and who knows how many times outside. The Dems are stretching the the truth.

#3 Comment By Anti-Empire On March 4, 2017 @ 11:57 am

This is a superb article.
It is quite clear that every effort is being made by neocons and liberalcons alike to bring down Trump – precisely because he is for Detente 2.0 with Russia. The drive for world hegemony on the part of these monsters may yet lead us to WWIII.
It remains to be seen whether Trump can resist these pressures and put us on the road to peace with Russia. I agree with Giraldi that the appt. of Fiona Hill is a bad sign.

#4 Comment By Junior On March 4, 2017 @ 12:08 pm

“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’m unable to comment on it.”

Sessions defines specifically in this sentence that AS A SURROGATE he never communicated with the Russians.

Enough with the twisting of his statement and pretending that he lied by ignoring the WHOLE sentence.

#5 Comment By John On March 4, 2017 @ 1:37 pm

The column has the unfortunate air of special pleading. It manages to ignore the wider context at the same time that it ignores the specifics of the Franken question and the Sessions answer. Not to mention that recusal should have been a no-brainer before this ever came out. That Sessions tried to avoid recusal suggests he wanted to remain in control of any current or future investigations. Why?

#6 Comment By DES On March 4, 2017 @ 3:51 pm

Neither Flynn nor Sessions did anything wrong. Flynn should not have been forced to resign nor should Sessions have recused himself. Do these people have any backbones? Continuing to cave in to these groundless attacks by the desperate Democrats will guarantee that they will continue.

#7 Comment By Victory over Eurasia On March 4, 2017 @ 4:25 pm

Foolish to try to defend Trump, the orange buffoon will only further embarrass and disgrace himself further the next day, and you will be tarnished by association

#8 Comment By Victory over Eurasia On March 4, 2017 @ 4:29 pm

He has loved by bluster and mendacity, and apparently expects that same of his team. They have willingly complied, and the consequences are becoming public. Slandering the former president’s integrity is a non-starter, and his tweets today further reinforce his reputation for stupidity and dishonesty, and hence further damages his team, and fans the flames of the Russia scandal. The GOP is gambling wildly that this will not all become public, but once it does a mountain of reputations will be destroyed.

No-one does well banking on the maniac’s word, and the GOP will rue this particular adventure…..

#9 Comment By Pine Barrens On March 4, 2017 @ 5:32 pm

@ “A Little Transparency” wrote “I’m more interested in which US politicians and administration officials have been in touch with representatives of the Israeli government.”

Qualified agreement. With the Russians there’s a legitimate concern about what might happen. With Israel it’s what’s already happened and still happening – Israel using its agents and allies inside the United States to get us into Middle Eastern wars and persuading our elected officials to take tax monies and other resources needed here in American and give them to Israel instead.

Nothing Putin has done thus far can match the damage Israel has already done to us. Odd that the media doesn’t seem interested. On the one hand a country where the relationship has already resulted in bloody wars costing trillions of dollars, on the other hand a has-been superpower that recently hasn’t done much more than lick its wounds and growl occasionally.

So yes, let’s start having stories about US politicians in contact with Israel and about US citizens acting as agents for Israel. In other words about a real, ongoing problem rather than a merely potential problem.

#10 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 4, 2017 @ 9:21 pm

“We can charitably assume he was not speaking to the Russians on behalf of the Trump campaign, and perhaps that is how he interpreted the question, but the fact remains that he said he had no communication with the Russians when he did. In Congressional testimony–seeking to become the nation’s chief law enforcement official–he said he didn’t do something he obviously did . . . ”

I have never heard so much nonsense. As I recall there had been a full press by no small number of Congress to take on the Russians on two or three fronts.

Shock and horror, Russian representatives are seeking avenues to have their views heard.

The obsession here is silly putty looking for a mold.

#11 Comment By James VI MI On March 4, 2017 @ 9:41 pm

You bet Sessions did something wrong. He became the most prominent elected US politician fighting out-of-control immigration.

Most of those shrieking about the Russia business will never forgive Sessions for his courage on immigration, and that’s why they’re gunning for him.

#12 Comment By The Blue-Headed League On March 4, 2017 @ 11:20 pm

Difficult to know whether he did anything wrong or not because the accusation keeps shifting.

Time will tell, but it smells like another Dem nothingburger to me.

#13 Comment By Jon S On March 5, 2017 @ 12:31 am

Even when given a chance to recast his response to Franken at his recusal announcement, he still was not able to provide clarity to what he actually meant. Failure x 2. Occam’s razor applies. BTW the comparison to Schumer and Pelosi, as distasteful as they may be, is not relevant because neither of them were asked whether they had meetings with the Russians. Because Bill wasn’t impeached for an inappropriate relationship, but rather the perjury, right?

#14 Comment By duglarri On March 5, 2017 @ 1:14 am

Oh, come on! What would the Republicans have done if Loretta Lynch had been shown to have lied about what she had for breakfast in her confirmation hearings? They’d have had dozens of hearings and would have called for Obama’s impeachment over it.

Sessions lied about talking to Russians. There’s only two possibilities that follow from this lie, neither of them good for anyone. First, he is trying to cover up something bigger. Seems unlikely. That leaves us with the second possibility: that he is suffering from memory loss sufficient to impair his ability to remember details about the most significant issue in American foreign affairs at the time of his hearing. He’s suffering from Alzheimer’s.

But he lied. It’s on tape. Does the highest law officer in the United States get to lie under oath and get away with it, whether it’s Martians or Russians? That’s the question here.

#15 Comment By Michael Kenny On March 5, 2017 @ 11:20 am

In fact, Mr Sessions did do something wrong: he joined Donald Trump’s administration! Given that Putin’s American supporters have hyped Trump as Putin’s stooge from day one, and are still doing so, any person in Trump’s administration who has had recent contact with Russian officials, in whatever capacity or context, lends credence to the “Putinites'” claims. Congress will give Trump more or less anything he wants but the price he has to pay is Putin’s head. As long as he doesn’t clearly distance himself from Putin, he and his entire administration will come under suspicion as soon as any sign of contact with Russian officials becomes known.

#16 Comment By Mark Thomason On March 5, 2017 @ 12:07 pm

At the extreme, one could assume Sessions was part of a Machiavellian conspiracy to fix the election.

That is absurd, from one hand shake and one office visit, in an election that turned on Hillary’s failures to connect with voters and voter distrust of her.

However, Hillary’s supporters are deep in denial. They simply won’t see where the blame ought to be put — squarely on Hillary and on them for foisting her on us.

They NEED to believe in an absurd conspiracy to explain her loss. So they do.

#17 Comment By collin On March 5, 2017 @ 1:18 pm

Fiddlesticks.

With all her issues, HRC barely lost to Trump and even in the tank NYT used the word e-mails in headlines more than any other word. And the Trump campaign rallies responded most to “Lock Her Up” chants.

And guess what on point 3 (Trump administration leaks like sieves), his little tweet storm Saturday completely fit the “Don’t believe the rumors until the denials” reality. And tieing Obama to wire taps all threw gasoline on the fire.

#18 Comment By Tom S On March 5, 2017 @ 5:39 pm

Gosh. Is lying under oath wrong?

#19 Comment By Andrew P On March 5, 2017 @ 9:06 pm

I would like to see the Trump Administration turn the tables on the Media by arresting WaPo and NYT reporters for conspiring with government employees to transfer classified information. All they need to do is to catch one Obama hack giving classified info to the reporters for cash. Then they can get warrants and raid the newsrooms. And a raid of newsrooms will be a glorious bloodbath. The media hacks are ideologically committed partisans, and they will defy orders from Federal Agents to freeze or lie on the ground and they will try to delete documents on their computers and get shot dead for it.

#20 Comment By posa On March 5, 2017 @ 11:43 pm

Yeah, Sessions and Flynn were asking for it by lying like a silly schoolboy… these guys are too dumb to hold any office.

#21 Comment By delia ruhe On March 6, 2017 @ 2:25 pm

Thank you, Philip Geraldi. This issue is getting tedious, reminiscent of the GOP pursuit of Hillary in the hope of implicating her in the Bengazi tragedy.

#22 Comment By ragin’ gaijin On March 7, 2017 @ 2:39 am

“With all her issues, HRC barely lost to Trump “

“Barely lost to Donald Trump”. What an epitaph for the paladinette of the brie and chablis set!

She was one of precious few candidates who could have lost to Donald Trump. By insisting it was her “turn” she inflicted what looks to be one of our worst ever presidents, only not as bad as she would have been. I know plenty of Trump voters who would have voted for Sanders. I’m one.

#23 Comment By Cw On March 7, 2017 @ 3:44 am

Well, small problem in that the meeting with the Russian ambassador in which Sessions was accompanied by his staffers was, according to media reports, paid for by the campaign . So he was meeting in his capacity as a campaign surrogate and so he lied. He’s a lawyer and he is careful with language. This was a deliberate untruth. The question is why? What was he trying to protect?

#24 Comment By Paul Carey On March 7, 2017 @ 2:24 pm

The entire hysterical manufactured news about President Trump being a Russian agent is an example of pathological psychological projection. It is also a strategy of “everyone does it.” They accuse Trump of being compromised as a Russian espionage agent because they know that Obama, and Valerie Jarrett makes two, was a bona fide espionage agent of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Political Inoculation. Psychological projection.

#25 Comment By Fred Balfour On March 9, 2017 @ 8:27 pm

In 1999, Sessions has been quoted to have pushed for full investigation of Bill Clinton for perjury. No one said Clinton’s sexual encounters were illegal, but perjury is. Aren’t we in the same situation here in Feb/Mar 2017? Maybe AG Sessions is guilty of something or he is not. But I’m thinking that AG Sessions’ 1999 advocating re: Bill Clinton’s perjury should guide us here in 2017. And we should press to find if his act of meeting was illegal which would be a 2nd charge.

#26 Comment By Tom On March 9, 2017 @ 9:27 pm

I’m middle of the road independent and value (or maybe valued) the TOC for its fairly balanced view of things and the willingness to stand up for what is right even when it rubs conservatives the wrong way. Attorney Sessions may or may not had alterior motives when meeting with the Russian. It is not that which bothers me. What bothers me is that he lied to congress and the American people. He flat out said he didn’t meet with him whe he had. He could have said they met under his role on the Senate committee but he didn’t, he lied and there-in is the problem. Heck Martha Stewart went to jail for a year for lying to he FBI. Where is our sense of justice? Every llier in the country is now going to start to wonder how far they can push the boundaries. We will be right back to debating what the meaning if “is” is.