Jeff Sessions is a liar.
As President Trump’s nominee to serve as attorney general of the United States, the veteran senator from Alabama and early supporter of Trump’s presidential bid was asked by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee if he had met with Russian officials during the course of the 2016 campaign. He claimed that he had not—in response to a written question from the senior Democrat on the Committee, Vermont’s Patrick Leahy, and then under questioning from Minnesota Senator Al Franken.
Those were lies.
Unfortunately, they worked. Sessions’s nomination was endorsed by the Judiciary Committee, and he was quickly confirmed to serve as the nation’s chief law-enforcement officer.
After Sessions took charge of the Department of Justice, it was revealed that he had met with the Russian ambassador to the United States during the course of the campaign; that he had, in fact, met more than once with the ambassador.
Sessions was outed as a liar. Because he had lied to senators during the course of the confirmation process, he was accused of perjuring himself. There were calls for his resignation.
The attorney general was in hot water. He dialed down the controversy by announcing that he would recuse himself from any involvement with investigations of Russian involvement with the Trump campaign and the 2016 election. Then it was revealed that Sessions had been intimately involved in the machinations that led to Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, whose oversight of investigations into the Russian matter had, by all accounts, unnerved the president.
Sessions had lied not just about his contacts with the Russians. He had lied about recusing himself.
At that point, in mid-May, Sessions should have been removed from his position. At the very least, he should have been called before the Judiciary Committee to answer for his deliberate and ongoing pattern of deception. But instead he remained at the helm of the Justice Department.
Only on Wednesday did the attorney general finally face an accountability moment with the Judiciary Committee. Leahy asked about the questionnaire, which specifically inquired about whether Sessions had contact with anyone connected to the Russian government. “You answered emphatically, no,” said Leahy. “You answered no, you concealed your own contact with Russian officials at a time when such contacts were of great interest to the committee.” Leahy then asked Sessions if he could “understand” why his former colleagues were concerned by what appeared to be “false testimony.”
“I believe my answer was correct,” answered Sessions, who claimed that he did not believe the question referred to “casual” conversations.
That sounded like a lie by omission.
It also sounded like an attempt to reinterpret and reframe his statements after they were revealed to have been false. Franken noted this detail as he described the attorney general’s changing answers and explanations to the same set of questions. “First it was, ‘I did not have communications with Russians,’ which was not true,” the senator explained. “Then it was, ‘I never met with any Russians to discuss any political campaign,’ which may or may not be true. Now it’s, ‘I did not discuss interference in the campaign,’ which further narrows your initial blanket denial about meeting with the Russians.”
Franken was appropriately blunt, telling Sessions that “The ambassador from Russia is Russian. And how your justification or how your responses morphed from ‘I did not have communications with the Russians’ to… ‘I did not discuss the political campaign’ and then finally going to ‘I did not discuss interference in the election,’ that to me is moving the goalpost every time.”
An angry Sessions tried to get Judiciary Committee chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), to shut down Franken.
“Mr. Chairman, I don’t have to sit here and listen…,” said the attorney general.
Franken interjected: “You’re the one who’s testifying…”
“Give me a break,” griped Sessions, before finally claiming that his deceptive answer to a clearly stated question represented “a good-faith response.”
It was never that. It was always a lie, as was Wednesday’s claim by Sessions—a scandal-plagued political careerist who was once rejected as a nominee for a federal judgeship by a Republican-controlled Judiciary Committee that was unsatisfied with his testimony regarding racial bias—that: “I’ve committed myself to a high level of public service, to reach the highest level of standards and decency in my public service.”
Showing no sign of remorse, let alone respect for the Senate, Sessions concluded that the questions he was asked on Wednesday were “totally unfair to me.”
That was another lie. As a former member of the Judiciary Committee, Sessions well understands that there is nothing unfair about asking an official to explain his wrongdoing. What is unfair is that Sessions is being allowed to remain in a position that he obtained after lying to the United States Senate.
Jeff Sessions has proven himself to be unfit for office. He has, with deceptive responses to questions from senators, and with his involvement in the Comey firing, committed what the founders understood as “high crimes and misdemeanors.” He should now be held to account, using the tool that the Constitution affords members of Congress to impose accountability on officials who lie in official settings: impeachment.