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Let’s Hold Jeff Sessions Accountable For His Role in Thwarting Justice

Jeff Sessions
Jeff Sessions
Christopher Anders,
Deputy Political Director and Federal Policy Director,
American Civil Liberties Union
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June 2, 2017

Jeff Sessions has been one busy guy. As more facts and allegations continue to spill out regarding Russia’s interference in our presidential election and the Trump administration’s attempts to thwart investigations, a few names keep popping up. And other than President Trump himself, none of them is more crucial to understanding whether we are a country that follows the rule of law than Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

While juggling his day jobs, first as a senator and now as attorney general, he somehow found time to work his way into key places at key times. From meeting with the Russian ambassador multiple times during the campaign — despite claims made under oath to the contrary — to his involvement in President Trump’s firing of the FBI director leading the investigation into Russia-related wrongdoing, Sessions continues to emerge as a key figure worth examining.

Sens. Leahy and Franken asked Sessions during his confirmation hearing about his contacts with Russian officials during the campaign, and he denied any communications. But a little more than a month after being confirmed as attorney general, The Washington Post reported that Sessions met twice with the Russian ambassador during the campaign. Sessions then made lots of excuses. But he never tells us the truth about what he has done.

After he was caught lying to the Senate Judiciary Committee about never having met with any Russian officials, he gave a dizzying array of explanations.

One: “I have no idea what this allegation is about. It’s false”

Two: “I — you know, we meet a lot of people so ….,”

Three: “In retrospect, I should have slowed down and said, ‘But I did meet one Russian official a couple of times, and that would be the ambassador.’”

Four: “My answer was correct.”

And finally, five: “I don’t recall, but most of these ambassadors are pretty gossipy and they like to — this was in campaign season, but I don’t recall any specific political discussions.”

He eventually admitted that he met twice with the Russian ambassador and then recused himself from the Russia/Trump investigation. But it’s hard to know what to make of those answers other than it’s time for some accountability. Here are three new routes to holding Sessions accountable.

1. Perjury investigations

Sens. Patrick Leahy and Al Franken wrote three times this spring to the FBI director to urge the bureau to investigate Sessions for perjury before the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearing. It shows complete disregard for both the law and the Constitution’s system of checks and balances for Sessions to lie under oath. How ironic it is to tell a lie to gain an office of such incredible public trust as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer.

In March, we urged the acting deputy attorney general to open a perjury investigation. Our letter, in combination with the added force of two senators lied to by a former colleague, should show the Trump administration that potential breaches of the public trust will be taken seriously.

2. Ethics complaint to the Alabama State Bar’s Disciplinary Commission

This morning, on behalf of the ACLU, I amended our Alabama Bar complaint against Sessions. Our complaint, filed in March, asked the Alabama Bar to investigate whether Sessions’ false statement under oath to a Senate committee violated the Alabama Bar’s rules of professional conduct. We received a letter this week from the general counsel for the bar, inviting us to submit any additional information related to the complaint.

We amended our complaint today to give the Disciplinary Commission background and materials on two new allegations related to Sessions’ false statement. First, CNN reported this week that Sessions may have met with the Russian ambassador not the two times that Sessions eventually admitted, but three or even four times during the campaign. Second, CNN reported last week that the Department of Justice acknowledged that Sessions did not list meetings with Russian officials on his security clearance form. The form required him to certify to the truthfulness of his answers.

You can read our initial Alabama bar complaint here, and the amendment filed today here.

3. Sessions’ future testimonies before Congress

The American public deserves to hear from Attorney General Sessions. A congressional hearing was already postponed once, but on June 13, Sessions will finally testify before House and Senate subcommittees. Lawmakers can ask Sessions to answer hard questions on his own role in the firing of FBI Director James Comey as well as any continuing role Sessions may have with any of the Russia investigations or any eventual prosecutions.

These are open hearings before the House and Senate Appropriations Committees’ Subcommittees on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies. They will webcast the hearings on their committee websites, and you should let your senators and representatives know that you want Sessions to be asked tough questions about his role in the Russia/Trump issue.

You can read a letter here that we sent to the subcommittees, emphasizing three key areas of essential questions for the hearings with Sessions.

As we press Congress on this issue here in Washington, I am reminded of something Ben Franklin once said. After leaving the Constitutional Convention, Franklin was asked by citizens what kind of government the delegates had formed. He replied, “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

The admonition in Franklin’s answer has only rarely been more apt or urgent than it is today.

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