Republican talking points defending Jeff Sessions ignore the elephant in the room

He recused in word but not in deed.

Attorney General Jeff Session and Vice President Mike Pence attend a Cabinet meeting with President Trump on June 12. CREDIT: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
Attorney General Jeff Session and Vice President Mike Pence attend a Cabinet meeting with President Trump on June 12. CREDIT: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

The talking points the Republican National Committee distributed ahead of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday claim that since Sessions recused himself from matters related to the 2016 presidential campaign, he’s “not been briefed on or participated in any investigation within the scope of his recusal.”

But the talking points conveniently ignore a key issue. Sessions seemingly violated his recusal by recommending the firing of former FBI Director James Comey, who was overseeing the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

During testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week, Comey was unable to explain Sessions’ involvement in his dismissal.

“That’s a question I can’t answer,” Comey said, referring to Sessions’ involvement. “I think it’s a reasonable question. If the president has said I was fired because of the Russia investigation, why was the attorney general involved in that chain? I don’t know.”

Indeed, during an NBC interview conducted days after Comey’s firing, Trump admitted the ongoing Russia probe motivated his decision.


“In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won,’” Trump said.

Shortly after firing Comey, Trump bragged to Russian diplomats during a meeting in the Oval Office that he fired the “nut job” Comey because of the Russia investigation, saying, “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

The RNC talking points also claim that Sessions “recused himself only because of his participation in President Trump’s campaign.” That too ignores the context of Session’s recusal. Sessions recused himself in early March after the Washington Post broke news that he “spoke twice last year with Russia’s ambassador to the United States… 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.” Sessions misled senators about those communications during his confirmation hearing.

During his testimony last week, Comey said that even prior to Sessions’ recusal, he and other FBI officials “were aware of facts that I can’t discuss in an open setting that would make his continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic.” During a subsequent closed session, Comey told senators that Sessions may have had a third previously undisclosed interaction with the Russian ambassador. (Sessions reportedly plans to deny that a third interaction with the Russian ambassador took place.)


In late May, CNN broke news that Sessions failed to disclose his meetings with Russian officials on a security clearance application he filed ahead of becoming attorney general. He claimed he didn’t disclose the meetings because they took place in his role as senator, but 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 Wall Street Journal that Sessions and Kislyak discussed the Trump campaign.

Predictably, the RNC talking points completely downplay the unanswered questions surrounding these meetings, and Sessions’ evasions about them. They claim that “[a]ttempts by the Left and the media to smear his reputation by drumming up interest in meetings between himself and Russian officials, which were completely normal for a sitting senator to conduct, are baseless and have no place in civilized discourse.”

The RNC claims Sessions “has acted with honesty, integrity, and professionalism throughout this entire process.” But Democratic senators aren’t so sure.

On Monday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) went as far as to say to Sessions “needs to be fired.”

“If you’re not going to be honest during your confirmation hearing, then you ought to be gone,” she said during an interview.


The RNC talking points conclude by trying to pivot from the scandal enveloping Sessions to concerns Comey expressed about the independence of former Attorney General Loretta Lynch during his public testimony last week. They claim to Lynch “has a lot of explaining to do.”

Trump echoed that theme on Twitter on Tuesday morning.

The two pages of talking points the RNC distributed ahead of Comey’s testimony last week also made a major omission by not mentioning Michael Flynn’s name a single time, despite the fact that the way the White House handled Flynn’s February firing is at the heart of questions about whether Trump obstructed justice.