Ques­tions and an­swers on the Ses­sions con­tro­versy,

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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