Lawmakers began calling for Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ resignation after news reports published on March 1 revealed that he had spoken to Russia’s ambassador to the United States during the 2016 election, when he was serving as a campaign surrogate for then-candidate Donald Trump. The reports contradict sworn testimony Sessions provided during his confirmation hearing, when he said he “did not have communications with the Russians.” During the Obama administration, conservative media figures and Republicans demanded that his attorneys general resign or be fired for supposed outrages far less damaging than lying to Congress, none of which were criminal in nature, and were in many cases completely phony.
Democrats Call On Sessions To Resign Following Revelations He May Have Lied Under Oath About Russian Contacts
Wash. Post: Sessions Met With Russia’s U.S. Ambassador In 2016, Contrary To His Senate Testimony. According to The Washington Post, Attorney General Jeff Sessions “spoke twice last year with Russia’s ambassador to the United States” in the midst of the presidential campaign, despite telling senators during his confirmation hearing that he “did not have communications with the Russians.” In his role as attorney general, Sessions “oversees the Justice Department and the FBI, which have been leading investigations into Russian meddling and any links to Trump’s associates.” From the March 1 article:
Then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) spoke twice last year with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Justice Department officials said, 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.
One of the meetings was a private conversation between Sessions and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that took place in September in the senator’s office, at the height of what U.S. intelligence officials say was a Russian cyber campaign to upend the U.S. presidential race.
The previously undisclosed discussions could fuel new congressional calls for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Russia’s alleged role in the 2016 presidential election. As attorney general, Sessions oversees the Justice Department and the FBI, which have been leading investigations into Russian meddling and any links to Trump’s associates.
At his Jan. 10 Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing, Sessions was asked by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) what he would do if he learned of any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of the 2016 campaign.
“I’m not aware of any of those activities,” he responded. He added: “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.” [The Washington Post, 3/1/17]
Wall Street Journal: Sessions’ Undisclosed Contacts Were Uncovered By Official Investigation Into Russian Election Meddling. According to a report from The Wall Street Journal, Sessions’ contacts with agents of the Russian government were uncovered as part of a multi-agency probe -- including the FBI, CIA, NSA, and Treasury Department -- into the extent of Russian election tampering. According to the Journal, the FBI is “‘wringing its hands’ about how to proceed” with its part of the investigation, which began before Sessions’ was nominated to run the cabinet agency that oversees the bureau. From the March 2 article:
The focus of the U.S. counterintelligence investigation has been on communications between Trump campaign officials and Russia. The inquiry involving Mr. Sessions is examining his contacts while serving as Mr. Trump’s foreign-policy adviser in the spring and summer of 2016, one person familiar with the matter said.
The investigation is being pursued by the FBI, Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency and Treasury Department, officials have said. Counterintelligence probes seldom lead to public accusations or criminal charges.
However, the probe, if ongoing, could create a highly unusual and sensitive political dynamic given that the FBI is part of the Justice Department that Mr. Sessions, as attorney general, now leads. Mr. Sessions has only been in office for under a month and the investigation began before he was nominated and approved by the Senate. [The Wall Street Journal, 3/2/17]
Top Republican Lawmakers Already Said Sessions Should Recuse Himself From DOJ’s Russia Investigations. Amid the reporting that Sessions may have lied to the Senate during his confirmation hearing, some top Republican lawmakers began calling on him to recuse himself from any investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. From The Washington Post:
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) tweeted early Thursday that “AG Sessions should clarify his testimony and recuse himself.”
Chaffetz later told reporters: “Let’s let him clarify his statement, and I do think he should recuse himself.” Asked whether his committee would investigate the matter, he said, “There are things we are looking at.”
Other calls for Sessions to step down came from across the GOP spectrum. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who formally introduced Sessions at his confirmation hearing, said he should recuse himself from ongoing probes of Russian involvement. So did Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio), who is held in high regard at the White House.
Republican Reps. Darrell Issa (Calif.), Raúl R. Labrador (Idaho) and Barbara Comstock (Va.) agreed. Comstock, who represents a swing district in Northern Virginia and is a former Justice Department official, said that Sessions “needs to clarify any misconceptions from his confirmation hearing on the matter.” [The Washington Post, 3/2/17]
Senior Democratic Lawmakers Now Call On Sessions To Resign. On March 2, The Washington Post reported that senior Democrats in the House and Senate have begun calling on Sessions to resign as attorney general while also calling for the assignment of an independent special prosecutor to lead its own investigation. From the article:
“After lying under oath to Congress about his own communications with the Russians, the Attorney General must resign,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement released late Wednesday, adding that “Sessions is not fit to serve as the top law enforcement officer of our country.”
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a senior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is also demanding a special counsel to investigate the Trump administration for ties to Russia, “given AG Sessions’ false statements about contacts with Russia.”
And House Oversight and Government Affairs ranking Democrat Elijah E. Cummings (Md.) called for Sessions to resign. He criticized the attorney general for keeping “secret” his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, even after then-national security adviser Michael Flynn was fired for misleading Vice President Pence about his contacts with the same Kremlin official.
“When Senator Sessions testified under oath that ‘I did not have communications with the Russians,’ his statement was demonstrably false, yet he let it stand for weeks,” Cummings remarked in a statement. “Attorney General Sessions should resign immediately, and there is no longer any question that we need a truly independent commission to investigate this issue.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) — a leading progressive and Trump antagonist — repeated calls for a special prosecutor to probe Russian influence in the elections and ties to Trump. She also called on Sessions to resign. [The Washington Post, 3/2/17]
Sessions Announced In Press Conference He Will Recuse Himself From Investigation Into Russia’s Interference In 2016 Presidential Election. Speaking at a March 2 press conference called amid mounting calls for his recusal or resignation, Sessions announced he will step back from Department of Justice investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. According to The Guardian, Sessions “insisted there was ‘nothing misleading’ about his answer to Congress.” but after meeting with Justice Department officials, he said “I have now decided to recuse myself.” [The Guardian, 3/2/17]
Here Is What Conservative Media Demanded Attorneys General Resign Over During Obama Administration
A Botched ATF Operation Similar To A Bush Administration Effort
The Daily Caller Ginned Up Republican Lawmaker Demands That Holder Resign. The Daily Caller, led by former reporter Matt Boyle, pursued a month-long effort in late 2011 to gin up calls from Republican lawmakers that Holder resign following conservative outrage over an ATF operation called “Fast and Furious.” The Daily Caller’s campaign, consisting of nearly two dozen articles tallying up over 50 calls from low-ranking Republican lawmakers, was exposed by Holder during an interview. Boyle and former editor-in-chief Tucker Carlson then scrambled to reach friendly media outlets for damage control. [Media Matters, 11/30/11]
Not Indicting Clinton After FBI Recommended No Criminal Charges
Fox Business Host Stuart Varney On Then-AG Lynch: “Surely, The Attorney General Should Resign” Over Clinton Email Investigation. Following former Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s congressional testimony about the Clinton email investigation, Fox Business host Stuart Varney opened up an interview with Republican Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) by saying, “surely, the attorney general should resign” for not indicting Clinton, whom the FBI would later exonerate. [Fox Business, Varney & Co., 7/13/16]
Political Opposition To Prosecuting Terrorists
Wash. Post’s Michael Gerson: Obama Should Have Replaced Holder Over Problems Prosecuting Terror Detainees. In a November 2010, Washington Post column, former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson suggested Obama replace Holder with someone “who understands the requirements of national security” after a trial of one terror suspect resulted in conviction on only one charge and another’s conviction was put off due to heavy political opposition from Republicans to allow the suspect to set foot in a courtroom. [The Washington Post, 11/18/10]
Dismissing The Possibility Of Prosecuting Reporters
Fox News’ Chris Stirewalt In 2013: Holder Is “Gonna Have To Go.” After House Republicans announced they would investigate Holder for perjury after he testified that he had never considered prosecuting reporters as part of a leak investigation -- which Republicans and conservative media falsely conflated with his approval of a search warrant for Fox reporter James Rosen’s communications records to find and prosecute a leaker of classified information -- Fox political editor Chris Stirewalt said, “He's gonna have to go, he probably should have gone during that time in between the re-election and the inauguration, he was already dragging a lot around behind him.” [Media Matters, 5/28/13]
The Phony New Black Panther Party Scandal
Fox’s Newt Gingrich: Holder “Should Certainly Resign Over The Racism Inherent In The Black Panther Case.” In July 2010, Fox contributor Newt Gingrich said Holder “should resign for national security reasons” and over supposed “racism inherent in the Black Panther case” -- a discredited accusation of voter intimidation by members of the New Black Panther Party ginned up by Fox News. Gingrich concluded that “Eric Holder shouldn't be attorney general and is not doing the job correctly” because of his alleged mishandling of the case. [Fox News, Hannity, 7/19/10]
Trump’s Chief Of Staff Reince Priebus Twice Demanded Obama’s Attorney General Resign
Priebus Twice Demanded Eric Holder Resign. Reince Priebus, currently serving as President Donald Trump’s chief of staff, first called on former Attorney General Eric Holder to resign in February 2012 after a right-wing media campaign to scandalize the ATF operation “Fast and Furious.” In May 2013, Priebus again called on President Barack Obama to ask for Holder’s resignation over subpoenas issued for Associated Press phone records in a classified leak investigation. [The Huffington Post, 5/14/13]