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The Sessions Controversy Explained

Critics of Attorney General Jeff Sessions have accused the former senator of purposefully lying about contacts with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak last year.

The incident stems from comments made by Sessions under oath during his confirmation hearing for attorney general on January 10.

When asked by Democratic Senator Al Franken about contacts with any Russian-government related entities during the course of the Trump campaign, Sessions stated he was unaware of any such meetings.

Franken’s questions asked “if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign…”

Sessions responded by stating that he was “not aware of any of those activities.”

“I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment,” Sessions said.

Opponents of Sessions argue that Franken’s question is all encompassing, meaning any meeting whatsoever should have been disclosed by the former Alabama senator.

But supporters of Sessions argue that Franken’s comments prior to the question were in the context of campaign duties, unrelated to Sessions’ role as senator and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“CNN just published a story alleging that the intelligence community provided documents to the prsident-elect last week, that included information that ‘Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump.’ These documents also allegedly say ‘there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government.’ Again, I’m telling you this as it’s coming out, so you know. But if it’s true, it’s obviously extremely serious…” Franken stated.

Sessions’ spokeswoman Sarah Isgur similarly argued that Sessions answer was honest given the context of Franken’s question.

“The attorney general has been very clear that as a senator he had conversations with the Russian ambassador,” Flores said. “Last year, the senator had over 25 conversations with foreign ambassadors as a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, including the British, Korean, Japanese, Polish, Indian, Chinese, Canadian, Australian, German and Russian ambassadors.”

In reality, Franken’s question was stated in such a way that either side of the aisle could legitimately argue their point. Claims by critics that Sessions knowingly lied cannot be proven, and demands for the attorney general to step down are likely to go unanswered. Claims from supporters that Sessions’ meetings were normal distract from the actual issue of whether the meetings themselves needed to be mentioned.

Given the intense focus on Russia, it could be argued that Sessions would have been well-advised to mention his meetings, affirming that they were unrelated to the campaign. Others say Sessions was under no obligation to mention the meetings and disregard the connection to Russia entirely.

Either way, unforeseen any further revelations, Sessions will likely receive the benefit of the doubt as claims of perjury are difficult to prove and even less likely to be successfully pursued.

Sessions’ two encounters, one during a September phone call from his office and another in person at a Heritage Foundation event at the Republican National Convention, were reportedly investigated by the FBI as part of a larger probe into Russia.

According to the Associated Press, President Trump has stated in response to the incident that he has “total” confidence in Sessions.

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About Mikael Thalen

Mikael Thalen is an investigative journalist covering foreign policy, information security and digital surveillance. His reports have been cited by sites such as the New York Times, Computerworld, International Business Times and the Drudge Report. How to contact Mikael securely:

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