The Trump administration just can’t seem to stay away from scandal. Or Russia.
President Trump’s recently appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions is under hot water for some statements he made during his confirmation hearing. When asked what he would do if evidence emerged implicating that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government during the course of the campaign, Sessions replied that he “did not have communications with Russians.” Now, we’ve discovered that Sessions had communications with Russia twice. Specifically, Sessions met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at the Republican National Convention in July and then at his office in September.
Did Sessions Commit Perjury?
The American Civil Liberties Union wants the Attorney General investigated for perjury. Perjury is defined as willfully giving false testimony under oath or affirmation.
While it seems like Sessions would be guilty of lying under oath, it doesn’t necessarily mean he perjured himself. Perjury requires proof that the person “willfully” made a statement he knew to be untrue. This means Sessions must have lied on purpose instead of making an accidental falsehood. This would not only be extremely hard to prove, but Sessions himself clarified that he “did not recall any discussions with the Russian ambassador, or any other representative of the Russian government, regarding the political campaign on these occasions or any other occasion.” Sessions continued to claim that he misinterpreted the question and thought he was being asked whether he was a Trump surrogate that continuously met with Russian officials. Finally, Sessions argued he met with Kislyak in his official capacity as a senator, not as a surrogate for the Trump campaign.
Perjury is a felony that carries a possible prison sentence, plus fines and probation. Certainly if Sessions is investigated and found to have committed perjury, he will be forced to resign as Attorney General and may face incarceration.
Due to the controversy surrounding his ties to Russia, Sessions decided to recuse himself from any investigations by the Justice Department into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. Recusal is a common tool used when a person of power has a potential conflict of interest. For example, a judge must recuse himself from presiding over case if he has an interest in the subject matter or a personal relationship with one of the attorneys in the case. Here, Sessions made his decision after consulting with Justice Department officials who recommended he should no longer participate in the investigation.
Russia and the Bigger Picture
Regardless of whether Sessions willfully intended to deceive Congress during his confirmation hearing, he is now the fifth person affiliated with the Trump administration that has ties to Russia. Most recently, Trump’s National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was discovered to have had an undisclosed meeting with the Russian ambassador back in December. As a result, Flynn resigned from his post.
Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and current senior adviser, also had a meeting at Trump Tower with Flynn and the Russian ambassador during campaign season. The extent and frequency of any of Trump’s inner circle to Russia remains unclear.
The possible secret ties between the Trump campaign and Russia have more serious implications than simply lying under oath and committing perjury. The real question is why – why did they lie about their ties to Russia? Conspiracy theorists have wondered whether Russia is blackmailing President Trump. They theorize that Trump borrowed money from Russia to keep his personal businesses afloat in the early 90s after a string of bankruptcies, which could explain why Trump refused to release his tax returns. They further believe Russia has some sort of incriminating information about Trump.
With so many ties to Russia, we have to wonder how far up the totem pole these Russian ties go. Do they go all the way to the President?