On Wednesday, CNN broke news that Attorney General Jeff Sessions failed to disclose his meetings with Russian officials on a security clearance application he filed ahead of becoming attorney general.
“Sessions, who met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at least two times last year, didn’t note those interactions on the form, which requires him to list ‘any contact’ he or his family had with a ‘foreign government’ or its ‘representatives’ over the past seven years,” CNN reported, citing Justice Department officials.
In early March Sessions recused himself from any investigations related to the Trump campaign after Justice Department officials told the Washington Post he had misled senators during his confirmation hearing about his meetings with Kislyak. Sessions had testified that he hadn’t communicated with Russians when he in fact had on at least two occasions.
On Thursday morning, Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) posted on Facebook that “CNN has been forced to backtrack from their leading story last night, which falsely claimed that Attorney General Sessions had misled the government by failing to disclose meetings with foreign governments while he was seeking his security clearance.”
Duncan — a Trump supporter who said after Trump’s first speech to Congress that “For the first time since I have been in Congress, I feel like we have a President who talks to the American people instead of lecturing them” — also tweeted a demand for an apology from CNN.
.@CNN needs to run their retraction of the AG Sessions story along with an apology at the top of every hour today. That was shoddy reporting
— Rep. Jeff Duncan (@RepJeffDuncan) May 25, 2017
But CNN hasn’t retracted the story. It’s still up online, and was discussed on TV today.
Subsequent tweets posted by Duncan made clear he’s basing his claim about CNN backtracking on comments made by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) on Thursday. During a CNN interview, Speier said that if Sessions met with Kislyak in his role as a senator, then he didn’t need to disclose those meetings on his security clearance application. Before becoming attorney general, Sessions represented Alabama in the Senate as a Republican.
JUST NOW: Democrat @JackieSpeier tells us that if Jeff Sessions was meeting with Russians in capacity as a Senator…no need to disclose.
— John Berman (@JohnBerman) May 25, 2017
But it’s far from clear that Sessions was acting as a senator when he met with Kislyak. As the Wall Street Journal reported, one of Sessions’ meetings with the Russian ambassador happened at the Republican National Convention — an event Sessions traveled to and from using campaign funds. What’s more, a person who was at the RNC told the Journal that Sessions and Kislyak discussed the Trump campaign.
CNN addresses this in its story. The piece quotes Mark Zaid, a Washington attorney who specializes in national security law, as saying, “My interpretation is that a member of Congress would still have to reveal the appropriate foreign government contacts notwithstanding it was on official business.”
On Thursday afternoon, CNN Communications denied Duncan’s claim, tweeting that the network stands by its reporting in full.
— CNN Communications (@CNNPR) May 25, 2017
Still, fake news has consequences. As this is published, Duncan’s post falsely claiming that CNN backtracked has been shared more than 160 times.
Sessions is the third former or current Trump administration official to be caught making false claims pertaining to Russia officials on a security clearance application.
Members of the House Intelligence Committee have publicly accused former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn of breaking the law by accepting payments from Russia and Turkey without receiving consent from Congress — and then not properly disclosing those payments on a security clearance application. And White House adviser Jared Kushner had to contact the FBI and provide the bureau with supplemental information after the New York Times broke news that he didn’t disclose meetings with Kislyak and with Sergey Gorkov, CEO of a Russian state-owned bank, on his application.
Duncan’s effort to discredit CNN echoes Trump’s. Trump has repeatedly bashed CNN, which has broken numerous stories about his campaign’s suspect connections with Russia. He labeled the network “very fake news” during a news conference in February and refused to answer a question from CNN’s Jim Acosta during a presser just before the inauguration.
During a meeting in February, Kushner reportedly told an executive from CNN’s parent company that the Trump administration is upset with the network’s critical coverage of Trump, singling out Trump-critical commentators Van Jones and Ana Navarro.
Earlier this month, Trump’s reelection committee released a statement accusing CNN of suppressing its “free speech” by refusing to run an ad that smears CNN and other mainstream cable networks as “FAKE NEWS.”