Lack of Candor

By Al Franken, via his public Facebook page

hat’s one of the reasons that Attorney General Jeff Sessions used to justify his decision to fire former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe last week, just two days before Mr. McCabe was set to retire from a distinguished 21-year career with the Bureau. Ironic, because, as you may recall, Jeff Sessions has repeatedly demonstrated a lack of candor – under oath – about his own interactions with Russians.

During his confirmation hearing, I alerted then-Senator Sessions to a breaking report from CNN that there had been an ongoing exchange of information between the Trump campaign and the Russians. When I asked him what he would do as Attorney General if those reports were true, Mr. Sessions decided to answer a different question:

SESSIONS: “Senator Franken, I am not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I didn’t have – did not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment on it.”

That turned out to be false. Then-Senator Sessions had, in fact, met with Russian ambassador Kislyak at least three times during the 2016 campaign. I’d like to claim that I was three steps ahead of Sessions – that I knew Senator Sessions wouldn’t answer my question and would pivot to a lie that would ultimately lead to his recusal in the Russia investigation. I’d like to claim that but in all candor, I had no idea that was the moment that would lead to the Mueller investigation.

The Attorney General has a different version of this exchange. He said he was “taken aback” by my question and that in retrospect, he should have slowed down and been more forthcoming about his meetings. Now, I’m no lawyer, but it’s not a good sign if the man nominated to be our nation’s top prosecutor is so easily flummoxed by a straightforward question.

But in the weeks and months that followed, as Attorney General Sessions was called before congressional committees to explain himself, try as he might, he just couldn’t manage to set the record straight. His explanation of his own Russian contacts continued to shift – from “I did not have communications with the Russians” to “I did not meet with any Russians to discuss any political campaign” to the Justice Department asserting that Sessions “did not discuss interference in the campaign” with any Russians.

When I asked him in an October hearing whether he believed that other Trump campaign surrogates communicated with the Russians, Attorney General Sessions said no. “I’m not aware of anyone else that did, and I don’t believe it happened,” he said.

“And you don’t believe it now?” I asked, slightly slack-jawed.

“I don’t believe it happened,” he answered. Never mind that at that point in time, the public already knew about meetings between Russians and Michael Flynn, Russians and Paul Manafort, Russians and Jared Kushner, and Russians and Donald Trump, Jr. – all Trump campaign surrogates.

And never mind that Sessions attended a March 31, 2016 foreign policy meeting at which George Papadopoulos raised his connections with Russians and offered to set up a meeting between Trump and Putin. Sessions first said he didn’t recall the Papadopoulos meeting, then testified that he “pushed back” on the Papadopoulos suggestion of Trump meeting Putin and now three sources have said Sessions didn’t push back on this suggestion. More candor problems.

Fast forward to this week, when ABC News reported that nearly one year before Attorney General Sessions fired Andrew McCabe – allegedly for a “lack of candor” – Mr. McCabe oversaw an investigation into whether Attorney General Sessions himself lacked candor when he repeatedly misrepresented his contacts with Russians when testifying before Congress. That investigation was opened after my former colleague, Senator Pat Leahy, and I wrote to the FBI last year and requested that the Bureau examine the attorney general’s false statements.

That the attorney general would fire the man who was tasked with investigating him raises serious questions about whether retaliation or retribution motivated his decision. It also raises serious questions about his supposed recusal from all matters stemming from the 2016 campaign. But the fact that Attorney General Sessions would claim that a “lack of candor” justified Mr. McCabe’s termination is hypocrisy at its worst.