Opinion

Investigate Jeff Sessions

Congress, do your job for once. Launch an investigation of the attorney general's misleading statements about Russia.

Another day, another top Trump administration official embroiled in controversy for lying about contacts with Russia.

This time, it's Attorney General Jeff Sessions. On Wednesday night, The Washington Post reported that contrary to his confirmation hearing testimony (which was under oath), Sessions did have contact with Russian officials during the 2016 presidential campaign, specifically Russia's ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak. These meetings were confirmed by Justice Department officials.

There are only two plausible explanations for this. The first, and best, case for Sessions is that he had some perfunctory talks with Kislyak (which isn't crazy — he was a U.S. senator sitting on the Armed Services Committee, after all) and lied about it simply because it might look bad. (You could also argue that Sessions forgot, I suppose, though if you can't remember that you met twice last year with Russia's ambassador to the U.S., maybe you shouldn't be attorney general.)

But the second, and worse, case is that Sessions conspired with a foreign power to elect Donald Trump. This can no longer be dismissed as some sort of fringe conspiracy idea. The circumstantial evidence is now piled high indeed.

Only a congressional investigation can determine whether Sessions simply lied or purposefully conspired. It's time for Congress to serve and protect the Constitution of the United States. They must act.

During his confirmation hearing, Sessions was asked by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) what he would do "if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign." Sessions took this as a question about himself, and responded: "I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I... did not have communications with the Russians..."

Sessions initially denied the Post's story, issuing a statement saying he did not have any specifically election-related contact with any Russian officials. That would address Sen. Pat Leahy's (D-Vt.) different question, but not Franken's more broad one about any Trump-Russia contact during the campaign. But then John Harwood reported an administration official telling him that Sessions had indeed discussed some "superficial" election news with Russia. But let's not get lost in the hyper-legalistic parsing. If Sessions was being honest, he obviously would have mentioned this contact, regardless of what they talked about.

This really is a major scandal. Sessions pretty obviously lied under oath about talking to the Russian ambassador.

Why? Sessions was a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. It wouldn't have been remotely out of line for him to meet with the Russian ambassador. Perhaps he just thought it would sound bad to admit it. Just witness Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), another member of the Armed Services Committee, who self-righteously thundered in a tweet Thursday morning that she had "never" met with the Russian ambassador — but had previously tweeted about doing just that on two separate occasions.

There's another obvious — though unproven — reason why Sessions might have lied. He may well have been aware of, or taken a small part in, some concerted Russian effort to put Trump into the White House. Given all that we know about Trump and Russia, and all of the bizarre chaos of the first six weeks of the Trump administration, it would be irresponsible to rule this possibility out, crazy and unsettling as it may seem.

This is why Congress needs to start doing its constitutional duty for once. This is now the second top-level administration official to lie about contact with Russian officials. We don't need panic and conspiratorial nuttiness. But we do need a calm, detailed investigation into just what happened. Obviously Sessions cannot investigate himself, and he has already said he would recuse himself from any investigation "if necessary."

But given the political pressure already applied to the Department of Justice by President Trump, it would be wise to assume the whole department is suborned. Only Congress has the independence and political heft to investigate properly.

Who was in contact with the Russians? What did they say? Who knew about it? Above all, to what degree was Donald Trump involved?

The American people must know.

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