Illustration by Dylan Vermeul.
If the Attorney General, the so-called “top cop” in the US and Head of the Justice Department, has to recuse himself in an investigation involving the interference of a foreign nation in the election of the President who has appointed him because he had contact with that foreign nation during the campaign—of which he was an active surrogate—while asserting he did not have contact during testimony given under oath at the hearing confirming his post, then he must resign the office completely.
If the Attorney General has to be “reminded” of these meetings with the Russian Ambassador—who is also regarded as Russia’s top spy recruiter in the USA—by a Washington Post investigation, then how could he ever credibly preside over any investigation, of any nature? Simply put, he cannot.
Thursday afternoon, after a day of tepid support from GOP colleagues, Jeff Sessions stepped to the podium at a hastily convened press conference (read: “damage control” and “of a most hopeful nature”) and did just that, he recused himself from any investigation involving the Russian government and the 2016 presidential elections. As is customary, the Justice Department never confirms nor denies the existence of any investigation until it is complete.
As Thursday morning began, Sessions received strong support from two of the most strident GOP demagogues (Senators Ted Cruz and Tom Cole), and issued a statement only slightly less dodgy than his comments to the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation. As Thursday afternoon turned to evening, Sessions’ first substantial act as Attorney General was to recuse himself from a matter of the highest national security importance as a result of dishonest comments he himself made, under oath, before a committee of the United States Senate. Quite a start for the nation’s so called “top cop.”
The fact that he is now recusing himself verifies the account of the Washington Post, which is that he withheld information directly relevant to the investigation of Russian activity that was intended to disrupt our presidential election. If the two meetings that the Washington Post reported on were of no material consequence to the issue of Russian collusion with the Trump campaign, then Sessions would have either disclosed that meeting during his confirmation hearing, or soon afterward as the issue continued to escalate throughout the Trump administration. Supplemental disclosures are always accepted as a matter of course. The fact that Sessions only now admits to these meetings, and that he only now acknowledges that these meetings actually compromise his ability to oversee an investigation into any connections between Russian intelligence operatives and the Trump campaign, makes Sessions unfit to hold the office of Attorney General. He was caught by reporters; he has never once been willfully transparent on the issue.
Let me remind you that this is not the first time he was caught in a willful act of dishonesty as he sought the office of Attorney General. Remember, Sessions also claimed to have participated in four civil rights cases as a prosecutor in Alabama, which turned out to be a complete falsehood. Sessions has a history with civil rights, and it’s not one to be proud of, which is what makes his dishonest claims so important. Quick recap, Sessions was deemed unfit to be nominated to the Federal District Court of Southern Alabama because of his actions and comments as a prosecutor in that state. This was in Reagan’s America, mind you, not an especially inspiring time concerning progressive values and apprehensions of…well, anything. Even fellow Republicans and the Senator from his home state of Alabama deemed his record to be inconsistent with the temperance and even-handedness required of a federal judge.
That’s the very issue at hand; Jeff Sessions has trouble measuring the things he has done with the things he claims to have done (or not done). It is true today, and it is true going back to his famous failed nomination to the federal bench in 1986. Should we take him at his word? Or should we wait for the Washington Post and New York Times to remember the facts of the matter for him? I mean back in 1986 there was more than twenty hours of testimony over a four day period that contradicted every assertion of even-mindedness Sessions could muster.
Let’s not forget either that we’re talking about the same Russian ambassador—Sergey Kislyak—that Michael Flynn had contact with, who also tried to conceal, and then misrepresent his own actions. It seems really hard to believe that Sessions would meet with Kislyak in September and not discuss the impending election (of which he was an active participant) in some capacity., And if the meeting was for a wholly different matter, wouldn’t it be a standard degree of prudence for the aspiring Attorney General of the US to say that he did meet with Russian officials on matters wholly unrelated to the election during his testimony, under oath?
Jeff Sessions came into this job with a substantial credibility issue, and it has just expanded to a disqualifying degree.
This is not about Russia, per se. It’s not some reinvention of the Red Scare or McCarthyism. I don’t think Sessions wanted to collude with Russia in order to advance Russian interests over the United States. I think Jeff Sessions perceives of the United States in very narrow and fallacious terms, as does Michael Flynn, as does Donald Trump, and there is some intersection and synergy (if not a great deal more) with Russia in those views. There is a shared resentment of Islam; there is a shared resentment of progressive, liberal, nations in Europe and beyond that emphasize social structures over corporate wealth and subsequent control; there is a desire to blunt the influence of China; there is a desire to return to the good ol’ Cold War days where the world was dominated by rich white men scraping out meager conflicts in faraway places to enrich the homeland; there is a desire to evangelize where practical and kill where that’s too difficult. Tycoons working together to advance permanent class-division and bigotry; a bi-polar world ruled by rich white men.
In the end, Sessions will be undone now as he was in 1986. Back then, he felt that he could say and act in a way that was offensive and belied his true nature, yet suffer no consequence. He boasted the classic haughty arrogance of the southern white lawman in the forever Antebellum South—you can be sure that his failed nomination for the courts due to a record of racism sealed his victory for a senate seat in Alabama. Today, despite all of the rehabilitation of image and reclamation of reputation, the same haughty arrogance has stepped boldly through the threshold of Sessions’ ego, where the truth is up to him, and you will only receive his version of it when he sees fit. Yet, in the end, we all know that people do not intentionally hide, obscure and misrepresent things that are truly inconsequential. I do not expect Sessions to provide that detail, but I suspect that detail will come.