Here is what Attorney General Jeff Sessions should have said when he stepped up to the podium and addressed reporters last week at the Justice Department: “At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”
Mr. Sessions is the victim of the type of McCarthyite character assassination that the left used to condemn. Remember when accusing people without evidence of coordinating with the Kremlin was frowned upon? No longer, apparently.
In fact, what Mr. Sessions faced may be worse than McCarthyism. At least Senator McCarthy was right when he claimed that there were Russian spies in the State Department (see Hiss, Alger, among others)… Former Obama director of national intelligence James Clapper declared that the U.S. intelligence community he headed until a few weeks ago had found “no evidence” of any collusion between members of the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence. No evidence.
The suggestion that Mr. Sessions was colluding with the Russians and tried to cover it up is preposterous. He was asked during his confirmation hearings by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) about allegations contained in an unsubstantiated dossier that “there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government.” Mr. Sessions replied, “Senator Franken, I’m not aware of any of those activities. 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.”
He was clearly referring to the allegations Mr. Franken had just cited of “a continuing exchange of information” between the Russians and Team Trump. His answer was truthful. He was later asked in a written question from Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.): “Have you been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election, either before or after election day?” Sessions answered “No” — which, again, was truthful.
In hindsight, he could have clarified that he had met Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in his Senate office in his official capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. But why would he? A host of Democratic lawmakers — including then-Sen. Mary Landrieu, La., and Sens. Maria Cantwell, Wash., Bob Casey, Pa., Amy Klobuchar, Minn., Jack Reed, R.I., Sheldon Whitehouse, R.I., and Claire McCaskill, Mo. — have also met with Kislyak. That’s not surprising. It’s their job. Sessions was not asked about official meetings.
Then the Wall Street Journal breathlessly reported that Sessions had in fact met with the Russian ambassador at the GOP convention. “The Trump administration says Attorney General Jeff Sessions was acting as a then-U.S. senator when he talked to Russia’s ambassador at an event during last year’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland,” the Journal reported, “but Mr. Sessions paid for convention travel expenses out of his own political funds and he spoke about Donald Trump’s campaign at the event, according to a person at the event and campaign-finance records.”
This could be the biggest non-story of a year. To clarify: Then-Sen. Sessions traveled to a political event — the Republican National Convention — using campaign money, not taxpayer money, as the law requires. The Russian ambassador was there as one of about 80 ambassadors participating in an official diplomatic program, coordinated with the Obama State Department. He and Sessions met at a public event where Sessions spoke.
How, exactly, is this a scandal? Answer: It’s not.
But that has not stopped leading Democrats from calling for Mr. Sessions’ resignation or leading news organizations to report on the “a parade of new revelations linking the Trump campaign to Russia.” Please. And is it really just pure coincidence that the Sessions story broke just after Mr. Trump delivered a widely acclaimed address to Congress? The stench of politics runs high.
Attorney General Sessions has recused himself from any official investigation of the Trump campaign, as he should. As a former Trump campaign official, he rightly concluded he should not be involved in any investigation of the Trump campaign to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. The Senate Intelligence Committee has launched an investigation into whether there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence, as it should. Americans deserve a careful and dispassionate inquiry so that we can get all the facts. And if any actual evidence emerges of some sort of wrongdoing, those facts should be exposed and those responsible held to account.
But if not, then it is entirely possible that Donald Trump’s embrace of Vladimir Putin during the 2016 campaign is nothing more than an example of bad policy judgment (much like his embrace of Syria’s murderous president, Bashar Assad). Embracing dictators is wrongheaded, but it is not a crime.
As for the witch hunts, some in the media need to take a long, hard look in the mirror. If they do, they may see old “Tailgunner Joe” staring back at them.
Thiessen is a fellow with the American Enterprise Institute and former chief speechwriter to President George W. Bush.