Questions and answers on the Sessions controversy,
Is this a case of perjury?
That’s tough to say. Such a case would likely come down to splitting hairs over what Attorney General Jeff Sessions said under oath, what he believed he was saying, and what he believed he was being asked. During Sessions’ confirmation hearing in January, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., asked the then-Alabama senator what he would do if evidence emerged that anyone from the Trump campaign had been in touch with the Russian government during the 2016 race. Sessions replied he was “not aware of any of those activities” and that he himself, sometimes called a campaign surrogate, “did not have communications with the Russians.”
Franken on Thursday said Sessions’ response to his query was “at best, misleading.” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California accused him of “lying under oath.” House Judiciary Committee Democrats sent a letter to FBI Director James Comey calling for a criminal investigation.
Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said Sessions’ answer was not misleading because he believed he was being asked about communications between Russia and the Trump campaign, not about those he had as a senator.
The disagreement underscores the difficulty in proving someone has committed perjury. Prosecutors must show not only that a person spoke falsely but that he intended to be misleading about an indisputable fact. Sessions said Thursday said he didn’t mean to mislead lawmakers. “That is not my intent,” he said. “That is not correct.”
But, as Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer pointed out, Sessions could have corrected the record in the weeks after his confirmation hearing. Sessions said Thursday he would be sending the Senate Judiciary Committee a letter doing that.
Could he be charged with making “false statements”?
Sen. Patrick Leahy, the senior Judiciary Committee Democrat, asked Sessions in a written questionnaire whether “he had been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election, either before or after Election Day.” Sessions replied with one word: “No.” That statement could be examined under a separate “false statements” statute, which differs from perjury in that it applies to statements that are not made under oath. But prosecutors would still have to prove Sessions knowingly and willfully gave a misleading answer.