WASHINGTON ― When Jeff Sessions told Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) under oath that he had not talked to any Russians during the Trump campaign, Franken hadn’t even asked him if he had.
Franken was just trying to find out what Sessions would do as attorney general if reports that emerged on Jan. 10 were true. The reports said there was frequent contact between Donald Trump’s campaign surrogates and Russian government intermediaries.
Sessions never said what he would do, but he did exonerate himself.
“I’m not aware of any of those activities,” Sessions told Franken, with just a hint of a proud smile. “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.”
But that was not true. Sessions met with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in his Senate office in September while the Obama administration was cranking up sanctions. He met Kislyak again in July, reportedly on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention.
Sessions said Thursday as he recused himself from any role in investigating the Russian attempts to influence the elections that he did not recall if he discussed politics with Kislyak, but that diplomats can be “gossipy.”
Now, Franken has some questions.
In a letter Franken sent to Sessions Thursday, Franken said he found it hard to believe the Russian efforts in the election did not come up in Sessions’ conversations.
“In July 2016, more than four months after endorsing then-candidate Trump, you delivered remarks during the Republican National Convention at an event hosted by the Heritage Foundation. Following your speech, you were approached by a small group of ambassadors, including Ambassador Kislyak,” Franken wrote. “The ambassador later pulled you aside and engaged you in private conversation. The notion that this conversation, which took place during your party’s nominating convention, would not have touched upon issues related to the campaign strains credulity.”
Franken wants Sessions to answer two demands by Friday:
1. In the seven weeks following your confirmation hearing, why did you fail to clarify that you had indeed communicated on more than one occasion with the Russian Ambassador during the 2016 presidential campaign until the Washington Post exposed those interactions?
2. Describe in detail any and all communications between yourself and Russian officials and their associates during the presidential campaign of 2016, including but not limited to in-person conversations, phone calls, meetings, and electronic communications. Also include any such communications between members of your staff, including your Senate staff and any staff that assisted you during the campaign, and Russian officials and their associates.
And if the answers to those questions show Sessions knowingly misled Congress, he is not fit to serve as the nation’s top law enforcer, Franken said.
“If it is determined that you lied to the [Judiciary] Committee and the American people under oath during your confirmation hearing, it is incumbent upon you to resign from your position as attorney general,” Franken wrote.