Society

The Two Laws At Play In The Jeff Sessions Controversy

| by Robert Fowler

The revelation that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had misled Congress about his two meetings with a Russian ambassador in 2016 has prompted several GOP lawmakers to call for him to recuse himself from any investigation into Russia, and Democrats are calling for his resignation. Two U.S. laws could have been violated by Sessions: perjury and providing false statements.

On Mar. 1, Department of Justice officials disclosed to The Washington Post that Sessions had met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the Republican National Convention in July and in his Capitol Hill office in September.

During Sessions' confirmation hearings to lead the DOJ, he had twice stated not having any communications with Russian officials during the campaign. He verbally told Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota that he was not aware of any Trump campaign official communicating with Russian officials, including himself. He also told Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont in a written answer that he had not had contact with anyone from the Russian government before or after the election.

Kislyak had also spoken with former national security adviser Michael Flynn several times in December 2016. Flynn resigned after misleading Vice President Mike Pence and the FBI about discussing Russian sanctions with Kislyak.

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DOJ spokeswoman Sarah Isgur told The New York Times that Sessions had met with Kislyak in his capacity as a congressman and not a member of the Trump campaign.

"There was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer," Flores said.

While Sessions was serving as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee in September 2016, 20 of his 26 former colleagues told The Washington Post that they had not met with Kislyak in 2016, with one committee staffer citing that they did not want to be associated with the ambassador while the U.S. intelligence community was asserting that Russia was interfering in the presidential race.

The two statements that Sessions had given to Congress during his confirmation hearing could potentially constitute either perjury or giving false statement, according to Quartz.

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Under U.S. federal law, perjury is defined as an instance when someone takes oath that their testimony is true but "willfully and contrary to such oaths states or subscribes any material matter which he does not believe to be true."

A conviction of perjury could result in an individual being imprisoned for up to five years. Meanwhile, U.S. law also prohibits any person working within the three branches of government from knowingly giving a fictitious statement, concealing any facts or falsifying documents.

On Mar. 2, the Senate Minority Leader, Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, called for Sessions to recuse himself from any DOJ investigation into the Trump administration's alleged ties with Russia.

"The information reported last night makes it clear, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that Attorney General Sessions cannot possibly lead an investigation ... with these revelations, he may very well become the subject of it," Schumer told CNN.

The House Minority Leader, Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, has called for Sessions to immediately resign. Meanwhile, GOP lawmakers, such as Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, have said that he should recuse himself from an investigation.

Democratic lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee have penned a letter to FBI Director James Comey requesting him to open up a perjury probe into Sessions' statements, The Hill reports.

In their letter, the House Democrats wrote that the DOJ assertion that Sessions had not lied because he met with Kislyak as a senator and not a campaign surrogate "appear to be disingenuous at best as the questions put to him did not in any way ask if the meeting was campaign related."

Sources: CNNThe HillThe New York TimesQuartz, The Washington Post / Photo credit: U.S. Customs and Border Protection via Wikimedia Commons

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