The Administration

Why Jeff Sessions must resign

When the Attorney General of the United States is caught misleading or lying to Congress, such an occurrence is shocking and has historically forced the Attorney General to resign. After all, as Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said last week, “There cannot be even the scintilla of doubt about the impartiality and fairness of the Attorney General, the top law enforcement official of the land.”

But for Jeff Sessions, the particular misleading statements are much worse, because of what he was testifying to Congress about: illicit contacts with a foreign power that was in the process of interfering with a U.S. election in order to try to swing the outcome. It is not only shocking — it is completely unprecedented in our nation’s history.

{mosads}Consider the two disgraced Attorneys General of the past 50 years: Richard Kleindienst and Alberto Gonzales. In 1972, Kleindienst was asked at his confirmation hearings whether he had discussed a pending Justice Department antitrust investigation with the Nixon White House. He denied such a discussion took place, but the infamous Nixon tapes, once they came to light, clearly proved that Kleindienst lied. Kleindienst ultimately resigned. As for Gonzales, he was less than candid with Congress about the surveillance programs being conducted by the National Security Agency, and ultimately he too was forced to resign.


But neither Kleindienst nor Gonzales was ever involved in a potential conspiracy with a foreign power to interfere with a U.S. presidential election. Sessions, on the other hand, conducted at least two meetings with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian Ambassador to the United States, during the time Sessions was acting as a high-level surrogate for the Trump campaign. As Richard Painter, George W. Bush’s chief ethics lawyer in the White House from 2005 to 2007, has said, “the facts now in this investigation are much worse than the facts in the early stages of Watergate.”

The content of Sessions’ meetings with Kislyak may well be innocent. But the fact that Sessions failed to disclose to Congress that the meetings took place is an independent problem that, as with Kleindienst and Gonzales, requires Sessions to resign. And of course, if these meetings were so innocent, one wonders why Sessions went out of his way to deny their very existence during his confirmation hearings. 

Furthermore, the meetings Sessions concealed did not take place in a vacuum. Trump’s original National Security Advisor, Mike Flynn, has already resigned after unsuccessfully trying to disguise the nature of his conversations with Kislyak. Now, we have news of another Flynn meeting with the Russians, along with Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law. And at least two other Trump campaign officials, Carter Page and J.D. Gordon, also met with Kislyak at the Republican National Convention last summer. Perhaps not coincidentally, Gordon was also the person who — on behalf of Trump — worked to soften language in the Republican Party Platform regarding how forcefully to defend Ukraine against Russian aggression.

Meanwhile, there is increasing evidence that Trump business associates have long-standing ties to members of the Russian underworld, and reports suggest that Trump has benefited for many years from a steady flow of Russian money. The possibility of a long-term quid pro quo is too evident to ignore, particularly when we consider the fact that Russian officials, directed by President Putin himself, conducted a systematic effort to infiltrate our electoral process to help Trump get elected.

The White House continues to insist that there is nothing at the heart of all these Russia ties. And that may turn out to be true. But we will never know unless there is a full investigation conducted by an independent counsel. This should not be a partisan issue. As Painter argues, Republicans should not want to become the pro-Putin party, so both parties should be able to agree that a complete accounting of Russian ties to the White House is crucial. Regardless of the ultimate result of that investigation, we should all be able to agree that Sessions at a minimum did not testify truthfully and completely to Congress on a key issue of national security, and as a result he is no longer fit to be Attorney General.

Paul Schiff Berman is the Walter S. Cox Professor of Law at George Washington University Law School and the author of Global Legal Pluralism, published by Cambridge University Press in 2012.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Chuck Schumer Congress Donald Trump Jeff Sessions Jeff Sessions Justice Department National security Russia White House

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