In the wake of revelations Attorney General Jeff Sessions lied under oath during his confirmation hearing about meeting with Russian representatives, nearly 100 Democratic members of Congress have called for him to resign. Some Republicans, including House Oversight Committee chair Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), have called for Sessions to at least recuse himself from overseeing the investigations into Russia’s meddling in the presidential election.
But the 17 Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee are going further. In a letter sent today to FBI Director James Comey and U.S. Attorney Channing Phillips, they collectively ask “the FBI and United States Attorney’s Office for Washington, DC to take up an immediate criminal investigation into these statements which could potentially implicate a number of criminal laws including Lying to Congress and Perjury.”
“We would also ask that the investigation consider any involvement or knowledge the Trump Administration and Trump Campaign may have regarding these matters,” the letter adds.
Every Dem member House Judiciary asks for criminal investigation the Attorney General. Clearly political, in part. But still, unusual times. pic.twitter.com/cNDXs8AcNn
— Eric Lipton (@EricLiptonNYT) March 2, 2017
At question are comments Sessions made in response to a question from Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) during his confirmation hearing in January.
After citing a CNN report about the Trump campaign’s “constant contact” with Russian officials, Franken asked: “If there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government during the course of this campaign, what will you do?”
“Senator Franken, I’m not aware of any of those activities,” Sessions replied. “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 on it.”
On Wednesday night, the Washington Post broke news that Sessions “spoke twice last year with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Justice Department officials said, encounters he did not disclose when asked about possible contacts between members of President Trump’s campaign and representatives of Moscow during Sessions’s confirmation hearing to become attorney general.” That report was later confirmed by Sessions spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores.
Sessions, then a U.S. Senator from Alabama, was named the chairman of candidate Trump’s national security advisory committee in March 2016. In that role, he advised Trump on foreign policy and national security issues. His conversations with the Russian ambassador reportedly occurred at the Republican National Convention in July and in September, when reports of Russia’s meddling in the presidential election were a major topic of discussion.
Flores told AL.com that during the confirmation hearing, Sessions “was asked during the hearing about communications between Russia and the Trump campaign — not about meetings he took as a senator and a member of the Armed Services Committee.”
“There was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer,” she said. But the fact Sessions met with the Russian ambassador at a political convention — not to mention his clear, unqualified statement that “I did not have communications with the Russians” — raises questions about Flores’ explanation.
The federal perjury statute forbids anyone who has “taken an oath before a competent tribunal, officer, or person” from “willfully and contrary to such oath” making a statement on “any material matter which he does not believe to be true.”
Despite calls for a criminal investigation of Sessions, the White House continues to maintain that not only is Sessions still fit to serve, but he shouldn’t even recuse himself from the Russia investigations.