I am relieved that Attorney General Sessions’ testimony before the Senate last week clarified what had appeared to be potential perjury during his confirmation hearings in January when he incorrectly stated that he had not had contact with Russian officials during the campaign. He said during his new testimony:
“I have never met with or had any conversation with any Russians or any foreign officials concerning any type of interference with any campaign or election in the United States. Further, I have no knowledge of any such conversations by anyone connected to the Trump campaign.”
He also clarified why he recused himself from the Russian collusion investigation, citing a specific Justice Department regulation, “28 cfr 45. 2,” which he read aloud:
“‘Unless authorized, no employee shall participate in a criminal investigation or prosecution if he had a personal or political relationship with any person involved in the conduct of an investigation’ that goes on to say for political campaign and it says if you have a close identification with an elected official or candidate arising from service as a principal adviser, you should not participate in an investigation of that campaign… This is the reason I recused myself: I felt I was required to under the rules of the Department of Justice and as a leader of the Department of Justice, I should comply with the rules obviously.”
While both of these clarifications are essential, the Attorney General refused to provide other critical information. When asked to report conversations he had with the President regarding Director Comey and his firing, Sessions answered:
“I’m not able to discuss with you or confirm or deny the nature of a private conversation that I may have had with the president on this subject or others.”
He repeated his refusal, citing Justice Department policy as he did for his recusal:
“I’m not able to discuss with you or confirm or deny the nature of a private conversation that I may have had with the president on this subject or others. I know this will be discussed, but that’s the rules that have been adhered to by the Department of Justice as you know.”
However, unlike his citing of “28 cfr 45. 2,” when asked which regulation he meant, he could not answer but only insisted: “I am not stonewalling. I am following the historic policies of the Department of Justice.” What “historic policies”? Senator Harris pressed the point before being interrupted:
“Did you not ask your staff to show you the policy that would be the basis for you refusing to answer the majority–”
As chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and so as the individual most directly responsible for oversight of the Justice Department generally and the Attorney General specifically, could you please explain what “rules that have been adhered to by the Department of Justice” he could have meant? If no such regulations exist, could you please write to the Attorney General informing him so and request him to correct his misstatement?
I understand that you may personally agree with his refusal, but the question is on what grounds he refused. Also, in your legal opinion, if the Attorney General cited a non-existent policy as preventing him from answering a set of questions under oath, is that false testimony?
When he was a Senator during the 1999 impeachment trial, Sessions voted to convict President Clinton for making false statements under oath. A majority of the Senate did not agree, concluding that Clinton’s statement, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” while intentionally misleading, was not technically false.
During his hearing in January, Attorney General Sessions was asked:
“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?”
“I’m not aware of any of those activities… I did not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment on it.”
While his original statement is explicitly false—he had communications with the Russians twice—he explained last week what he actually meant. The American public now needs to know what Attorney General Sessions actually meant when he invented a Justice Department regulation in order to conceal information regarding the President’s potential obstruction of justice.