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In this February 9, 2017 photo, Attorney General Jeff Sessions holds a meeting with the heads of federal law enforcement components. Sessions had two conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States during the presidential campaign season last year, contact that immediately fueled calls for him to recuse himself from a Justice Department investigation into Russian interference in the election. (Photo: AP/Susan Walsh, Pool, File)

If Jeff Sessions Will Not Recuse or Resign, He Should Be Impeached

The Attorney General disrespected the basic premises of the American experiment and disregarded the Constitution.

John Nichols

 by The Nation

Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution of the United States announces that: “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

The Attorney General of the United States is a civil officer of the United States. If he has lied under oath to the senate, that act demands impeachment.

After news reports published Wednesday evening suggested that Sessions had lied to the Senate, there was demand that the Attorney General recuse and resign. But on the assumption that a lawless Attorney General will not do the right thing, then impeachment is the right response.

Here’s where we are at: The Washington Post has reported that, during the 2016 presidential campaign, when Sessions was a close counselor and top surrogate for Donald Trump, he spoke twice with Russia’s ambassador to the United States.

Sessions acknowledges the meetings, now. But when he appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee as Trump’s nominee for Attorney General in January, Senator Al Franken asked how he might handle revelations that individuals associated with the Trump campaign had communicated with the Russian government.

The founders anticipated such circumstance. This is why they outlined an impeachment process.

Sessions replied: “I’m not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.”

This was not the only denial from Sessions. According to The Washington Post:

In January, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., asked Sessions for answers to written questions. “Several of the President-elect’s nominees or senior advisers have Russian ties. Have you been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election, either before or after election day?” Leahy wrote.

Sessions responded with one word: “No.”

We now know that was wrong. And, unless Sessions is too absentminded to serve as Attorney General, we now have evidence that the Republican engaged in an obvious attempt to deceive the Senate that would determine whether he should serve as Attorney General.

Sessions and his aides were busy making excuses Wednesday night, claiming that he spoke with the ambassador in his official capacity as a senator rather than as a Trump surrogate—and that the Russian ambassador was one of many foreign officials with whom he met as “a senior member of the Armed Services Committee.”

So what? There is no need to take that Washington-swamp spin seriously.

The issue is not whether Sessions spoke with the ambassador in his capacity as a senator or in his capacity as a Trump surrogate. He was both.

The issue is not whether Sessions was serving on a particular committee, or that he met with other foreign officials.

The issue is not what people think about Trump or Russians, about how the 2016 election was conducted or how it concluded.

The issue is not whether Sessions was under oath or answering written questions from a member of the Judiciary Committee.

What matters is what the then-senator from Alabama told fellow senators when he was asked straightforward questions. Sessions volunteered that “I did not have communications with the Russians.” He replied “no” to a direct inquiry about whether he had such communications. At the most, these were overt lies; at the least, these were legalistic attempts by Sessions to deceive colleagues who were charged by the Constitution with a duty to provide advice and consent regarding his nomination to serve as the nation’s chief law-enforcement officer.

Lying to the Senate surely qualifies as an impeachable offense. To suggest otherwise would require a torturously narrow reading of the Constitution.

The revelation of the Sessions deceptions has led to calls for the Attorney General to recuse himself from inquiries into allegations that the Russians meddled in the 2016 election. New York Representative Eliot Engel, the ranking member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said Wednesday that: “Tonight’s revelation about then-Senator Sessions’s contact with Russia’s ambassador removes all doubt that he must recuse himself from any investigation of Russia’s interference in last year’s election. He should do so without delay. The President should also appoint a special prosecutor to handle this matter whose work must complement a thorough investigation by a bipartisan commission.”

Even Republicans who have been slow to hold the Trump administration to account were calling for recusal. House Oversight and Government Reform committee chair Jason Chaffetz tweeted: “AG Sessions should clarify his testimony and recuse himself.”

Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi went further, declaring that “after lying under oath to Congress about his own communications with the Russians, the Attorney General must resign. Sessions is not fit to serve as the top law enforcement officer of our country and must resign. There must be an independent, bipartisan, outside commission to investigate the Trump political, personal and financial connections to the Russians.”

Senator Elizabeth Warren agreed, saying: “We need a special prosecutor totally independent of the AG. We need a real, bipartisan, transparent Congressional investigation into Russia. And we need Attorney General Jeff Sessionslaw-enforcement officerwho should have never been confirmed in the first place – to resign. We need it now.”

True enough.

But Sessions has not given any indication that he intends to recuse or resign.

And his record does not offer any indication that he intends to start telling the truth.

The founders anticipated such circumstances.

This is why they wrote a constitution that outlined an impeachment process.

Impeachment is not a legal mechanism, it is a political tool designed for use by the Congress.

The founders intentionally employed the catch-all phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors” to give guardians of the republic leeway for holding presidents, vice presidents and cabinet members to account. An impeached official is not charged by a prosecutor and tried in the courts; nor is he or she jailed or fined if found guilty. An impeached official is charged by the House of Representatives, tried by the Senate, and removed from office if convicted.

That is a sufficient remedy, as the point of impeachment is to protect the republic, to preserve the rule of law, to maintain proper checks and balances and to respect the US Constitution.

That respect for the Constitution is the key. The founders did not intend that this tool would be used only by the opposition party; the intent was that all members of the House and Senate might rise above partisanship and ideology when it came time to defend the American experiment. And, while no one is naive about the level of partisanship in today’s Washington, no one should make excuses for House members or senators who fail to rise above it.

Jeff Sessions disrespected the basic premises of that experiment and disregarded the Constitution.

He did so in pursuit of a position: that of Attorney General of the United States.

He obtained that position under false pretenses.

It is now time to relieve him of his responsibilities as the nation’s chief law-enforcement officer.

The tool, impeachment, is at the ready.

It should be employed by members of Congress—Democrats and Republicans—who believe, as Sessions obviously does not, that constitutionally-defined oaths must be upheld.

© 2017 The Nation

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