Column: Sessions should face further questioning or resign

Only a day after President Donald Trump coherently read words written by someone else during his first congressional address and received vast praise for hurdling a bar that is currently at a record low, the goodwill he received vanished, along with any remaining accountability his administration may have had.

In a Wednesday night one-two-punch, The New York Times and The Washington Post broke two incredible stories. The former reported that Obama Administration officials had spread information throughout the government related to Russian election hacking and contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia. The latter, more startling story revealed that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, at the time a senator, had spoken to Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak twice last year, despite his claim that he had had no such contacts during his confirmation hearing.

“I’m not aware of any of those activities,” Sessions said in a response to a question posed by Sen. Al Franken, D-MN, about what Sessions would do should evidence surface that the Trump campaign had communicated with Russia. “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.”

While it’s not entirely clear what constitutes as “lying” these days, Sessions’ claim that he “did not have communications with the Russians” when he, in fact, did, seems to adhere to the definition.

But it gets better.

During the confirmation hearing process, Sessions had an even more concise answer when Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT, posed a similar question in the written form. This question specifically asked if Sessions had “been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election, either before or after election day?” Sessions’ reply was a simple “No.”

Thursday, Sessions — who presides over both the Justice Department and FBI — recused himself from any future investigations related to Russian meddling in the 2016 election or the Trump campaign’s potential ties to Russia, though he said he was considering doing so before The Post’s story broke. Sessions also said his private meeting with the Russian ambassador did not concern subjects related to the election and, during the hearing, he should have “slowed down and said I did meet one Russian official a couple times.”

But a recusal is the bare minimum we should expect of Sessions; it obviously makes little sense for him to oversee investigations that he would undoubtedly be a subject of.

Instead, Sessions should resign or, at the very least, appear in front of the Judiciary Committee for further questioning. It’s not ridiculous to suggest that Sessions committed perjury by lying during a congressional hearing while under oath. And the idea that he “misremembered” should be looked at with scrutiny rather than accepted without further questions.

In light of Session’s ongoing situation, it’s difficult not to think of last month’s Michael Flynn fiasco, which culminated in Flynn’s resignation as National Security Adviser after revelations that he had discussed Obama Administration sanctions with Kislyak and had “misled” Vice President Mike Pence on the subject of the calls.

But Flynn was hardly a respected political figure, having been forced out of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014 for issues related to his disorderly management style. Flynn was known to fabricate on occasion — his subordinates in the DIA coined the term “Flynn facts” because of this — and to fall for conspiracy theories, having previously retweeted false information accusing Presidential Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton of money laundering and child sex trafficking.

Sessions’ situation is more unique. The attorney general has had a lifetime career in politics and has served as a United States senator for Alabama from 1997 to 2017. He is greatly respected by members of the GOP, who collectively came to his defense just a few months ago, following his nomination for the position of attorney general, to combat accusations of racism that prohibited Sessions from becoming a district court judge in 1986.

But the biggest takeaway from the Sessions debacle is that the steady drip of stories connecting the Trump campaign to Russian officials isn’t slowing down. A Washington Post story that fell under the radar this week revealed the FBI had planned to pay the author of a dossier which alleges collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow. While the agreement fell through, it lends another layer of credibility — along with Flynn’s resignation and Sessions’ current predicament — to what could potentially be the most explosive political scandal in American history.

Jared Casto can be contacted at [email protected].