In testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions repeatedly came under heavy criticism from Democratic members. At issue was his statement, delivered under oath during his confirmation hearings, that neither he nor anyone else on the Trump campaign had contact with Russia during the course of the 2016 election. It was subsequently revealed that Sessions had multiple meetings with the Russian ambassador and knew about other contacts between campaign staff and Russians.
Perhaps the most effective questioning came from Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY). His strategy was simple: use Sessions’ own words to make his point.
Jeffries started by establishing that Sessions claimed he “didn’t recall” the answer to various questions dozens of times during his appearances before Congress as attorney general. Jeffries then summarized Sessions’ comments to Fox Business host Lou Dobbs on October 4, 2016 in which he blasted Hillary Clinton for the exact same behavior, suggesting that it could be criminal.
Jeffries was limited to five minutes, so he didn’t have time to read Sessions’ full quote from his October 2016 appearance with Dobbs ahead of the vice presidential debate, but here it is.
SESSIONS: Lou, that’s the way you lie. That’s the way people do it in court. I’ve seen it many, many times. Well, I don’t remember, but if. And she said 35 times before the FBI interview that she couldn’t remember? If you can remember and you don’t — if you say — and you say, I can’t remember, then that’s as false a perjurious statement as if you flat-out gave a false statement.
“Mr. Attorney General, do you still believe that the intentional failure to remember can and constitute a criminal act?” Jeffries asked.
“If it’s an act to deceive, yes,” Sessions acknowledged.
Sessions’ defense for his inaccurate statements during his confirmation hearing was that his answers were not an attempt to deceive. Rather, Sessions said his testimony reflected his best recollection of the events at the time and that, as soon as he become aware of new facts, he corrected the record.
But Jeffries noted that on February 23, 1999, during the Senate impeachment trial of Bill Clinton, Sessions told a story about a “young police officer” who said something inaccurate during a deposition in a federal lawsuit but then later corrected his statement. Sessions said it was “my decision whether the officer would be prosecuted for his perjury.”
Sessions said he “concluded that a sworn police officer who had told a plain lie under oath, even a young officer, should be prosecuted in order to preserve the rule of law and the integrity of the system.” In explaining his vote to convict Clinton and remove him from office, Sessions said “I cannot hold a young police officer to a different and higher standard than the President of the United States.”
Here is the relevant portion of Sessions’ remarks from 1999, which Jeffries also did not have time to read.
About seven years ago when I was still the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, a case came before me. My own city of Mobile had as its chief of police a strong African-American who aggressively worked to reform the office, establish community-based policing, and work to create a new level of discipline. Opposition grew and lawsuits were filed against him. A young police officer, who had been the Chief’s driver, testified in a deposition in a federal lawsuit against the Chief. He stated that the chief of police had ordered him to ‘‘bug’’ the patrol cars of other police officers and that he had a secret tape recording giving him this illegal order to commit a crime. The deposition was released quickly to the newspapers. The city council, police department, and the people were in an uproar. Under careful questioning by an experienced FBI agent, the young officer admitted that he had lied in the deposition regarding the tape recording.
As United States Attorney, it was my decision whether the officer would be prosecuted for his perjury. His counsel argued that he was young, that he did lie but had corrected his false testimony at a later time. He argued that we should decline to prosecute. After reflection and review, I concluded that a sworn police officer who had told a plain lie under oath, even a young officer, should be prosecuted in order to preserve the rule of law and the integrity of the system. Our office prosecuted that case. The officer was convicted, and that conviction was later affirmed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. For me personally, I have concluded that I cannot hold a young police officer to a different and higher standard than the President of the United States.
“The attorney general of the United States of America should not be held to a different standard than the young police officer whose life you ruined by prosecuting him for perjury,” Jeffries concluded as his time expired.
Watch Jeffries’ full 5-minute cross-examination of Sessions.