The Question I Want Jeff Sessions to Answer

I was thinking of compiling a list of questions for members of the Senate Intelligence Committee to ask Attorney General Jeff Sessions when he testifies before them tomorrow afternoon, but then I noticed that James Hohmann of the Washington Post had already done this. He came up with forty questions.

It’s not likely that any of the Republicans on the committee will focus on these questions, and there’s no doubt that Sessions will bob, weave, and duck as many of them as he can when he fields them from Democrats. He’ll hide behind a variety screens. He’ll say that he can’t talk about personal communications with the president. He’ll say that he can’t discuss classified material. He’ll argue that he can’t discuss topics that are the subject of an an open and ongoing inquiry by Special Counsel Bob Mueller. Whenever he thinks he can get away with it, he’ll claim to have a faulty and imprecise memory.

But there’s one question I really want to see him grapple with:

Did Sessions have a third meeting with [Russian ambassador] Sergey Kislyak? He did not acknowledge meeting twice with the Russian ambassador to the United States during the campaign — in his Senate office and in Cleveland during the Republican National Convention — until The Post reported the news in March. Now there are reports of a possible third meeting at the Mayflower Hotel in April 2016, when both men came to see Donald Trump deliver a Russia-friendly foreign policy address.

[James] Comey told senators during a classified session last week that investigators believe a third meeting might have happened, based in part on Russian-to-Russian intercepts in which it was discussed, according to CNN. The AG’s spokesman strongly denies that there was a meeting, and Comey reportedly acknowledged that Kislyak may have been exaggerating his connections to his superiors.

If the meeting didn’t occur, this will be an easy question to answer. But if the meeting did occur, Sessions will be taking a gigantic risk if he denies it. And if he tries to hide behind Mueller’s ongoing investigation to avoid answering the question at all, then that will look very, very bad.

Probably the best course is to feign an incomplete memory and say that to the best of his recollection, the encounter was brief and lacking in substance. He can argue about the nature, meaning and significance of the meeting without denying that it occurred at all.

Of course, the FBI has intercepts of Kisylak discussing the meeting with his Kremlin contacts. Sure, it’s possible that Kislyak was making more of the meeting than was warranted, but Sessions doesn’t know exactly what was said so it will be hard for him to know the safest way to rebut the charges.

The potential for perjury is extraordinary high, which is why he won’t want to be definitive in his answers. One problem for him is that his excuse for not reporting the meeting previously and voluntarily is because he didn’t think it was very significant. Maybe they just greeted each other briefly and exchanged some pleasantries. But, if that is the case, why would he remember it so much more clearly now?

So, he can’t really give a strong version of his side of the story. The best he can do is to leave enough wiggle room to say that his memory is wrong and that he did not knowingly lie or intentionally cover up this contact with the Russian ambassador.

If he really does try to be responsive to this line of questioning, it should be exquisite to see how much it makes him squirm. And if he won’t deny it and hides behind Mueller, that will convince almost everyone that he can’t deny it and that he’s guilty as hell.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is our attorney general I am talking about.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.