Six times Jeff Sessions talked about perjury, access and special prosecutors — when it involved the Clintons
Matt Zapotosky and Mark Berman report in the Washington Post:
Not a month into the job, Attorney General Jeff Sessions finds himself in the hot seat for not disclosing at his confirmation hearing that he spoke twice last year with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. The meetings — which occurred when Sessions was a senator and senior member of the influential Armed Services Committee, as well as one of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump’s top foreign policy advisers — have breathed life into calls for Sessions to recuse himself from any investigations involving Trump and Russia.
Some legislators are also calling for him to resign, and the American Civil Liberties Union and Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday called for an investigation into potential perjury.
Sessions served as a senator for two decades, and he was an outspoken surrogate for Trump on the campaign trail. Because of that, he has talked extensively on all the topics for which he now faces criticism — lying under oath, the importance of meetings, handling sensitive investigations and even correcting the congressional record. He was particularly critical of Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, and spoke extensively about the investigation of her use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.
Those sentiments are a lot more important now, given the spotlight Sessions is under. Here are six times he addressed the topics, in other contexts.
1. “In America … no one is above the law.”
After then-President Bill Clinton was impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives in December 1998 on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, Sessions — then a freshman senator from Alabama — went on television to discuss the significance of lying under oath.
“I am concerned about a president under oath being alleged to have committed perjury,” Sessions said in a January 1999 interview with C-SPAN that was resurfaced and widely shared on social media Wednesday night. “I hope that he can rebut that and prove that did not happen. I hope he can show that he did not commit obstruction of justice and that he can complete his term. But there are serious allegations that that occurred.”
Sessions, who vowed to give Bill Clinton a fair trial, said people tend to see things differently based on “what party you belong to.”
This comment is important because of the way congressional Republicans are now responding to the news of Sessions’s contacts with the Russian ambassador. While some Democrats have called on him to resign, top Republicans have instead said he should recuse himself from any Russia probes.
“In America, the Supreme Court and the American people believe no one is above the law,” Sessions said in 1999. “The president has gotten himself into this fix that is very serious.”
Perjury is an extremely difficult charge to prove, requiring investigators to show a person under oath “willfully … subscribes any material matter which he does not believe to be true.” Even if someone says something false to Congress, investigators have to prove they knew at the time they were doing so.
Republicans asked for a perjury investigation of Hillary Clinton for telling Congress “there was nothing marked classified on my emails, either sent or received.” That was not true. FBI Director James B. Comey has said that investigators found three such emails with the notation “(C)” — meaning confidential — contained within the text. But Comey said it was possible Clinton “didn’t understand what a ‘C’ meant when she saw it in the body of an email like that” — which would undermine a perjury charge. The State Department has further said two emails might have been marked incorrectly.
2. Bill Clinton’s acquittal “will weaken the legal system by providing an option for those who consider being less than truthful in court.”
Bill Clinton was acquitted by the Senate in February 1999. Sessions, who voted to convict Clinton on both charges, said he was worried that the Senate’s decision would help anyone looking to lie under oath and could damage the country’s respect for the rule of law.
“It is crucial to our system of justice that we demand the truth,” Sessions said in a statement at the time. “I fear that an acquittal of this President will weaken the legal system by providing an option for those who consider being less than truthful in court.”
Sessions said that to him, it was “proven beyond a reasonable doubt and to a moral certainty” that Clinton committed perjury, and he assailed “the chief law-enforcement officer of the land, whose oath of office calls on him to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution,” for what he called an attack on the law.
This is important because during his confirmation hearing, Sessions testified under oath that he had not communicated with the Russian ambassador — despite two such contacts.
A spokeswoman for Sessions said there was “absolutely nothing misleading” about his answer, because he was discussing contacts between Russia and the Trump campaign, not meetings Sessions had in his role as a senator. Sessions made a similar assertion in a statement released late Wednesday. He did not deny meeting with Russian officials, but instead said he never met with them “to discuss issues of the campaign.” (The Post story to which he was responding never said he discussed campaign issues.)
In the Clinton case, Sessions went on to evoke the Watergate-era case against President Richard M. Nixon, who resigned after the House Judiciary Committee approved articles of impeachment in 1974 but before the full House of Representatives voted on them.
“Whereas the handling of the case against President Nixon clearly strengthened the nation’s respect for law, justice and truth, the Clinton impeachment may unfortunately have the opposite result,” Sessions said.
3. “Assure the public the matter will be handled without partisanship” . . .