State lawmakers say Sessions 'unfit to serve' if he lied about Russia contacts

Mar 2, 2017

Seattle PI: State lawmakers say Sessions 'unfit to serve' if he lied about Russia contacts
By Joel Connelly

Attorney General Jeff Sessions rendered himself  "unfit to serve" as the nation's chief law enforcement officer by not disclosing two 2016 meetings with Russia's ambassador, say two senior Washington lawmakers who serve on the House Armed Services Committee.

"It is clear that the attorney general is unfit to serve as the head of the Justice Department, nor is he in a position to oversee the widely substantiated evidence of Russia's interference in our democratic process," said U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash, dean of the state's congressional delegation.

Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., a nine-term House veteran, added: "When you lie under oath -- in this case about contact with a government openly hostile to the United States -- you do not get to be the nation's top law enforcement official."

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., did not tell Sessions where to go, but urged that Russia's role in the 2016 election be out on the table.

"It's time to appoint an independent special prosecutor to conduct the investigation," Cantwell said.  "It is not acceptable to think someone under the direct supervision of the attorney general could do this investigation.

"The American people deserve answers about the contacts between those involved with the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence officers and government officials. We must get to the bottom of this to ensure the integrity of our elections and our democracy."

Sessions said at a late Thursday news conference that he would recuse himself from any probe into the extent of Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election.

In the firestorm of controversy, Washington's Republican House members were again notable for staying out of the line of fire.

U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., posted an upbeat tweet:

"Enjoyed speaking with some of our nation's finest retail and apparel companies.  Thank you to @apparelfootwear  for the invitation."

Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., tweeted his congratulations to newly confirmed U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry and voiced hope to work with him on Hanford issues.

At his confirmation hearing, Sessions was asked by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., about a CNN report of contacts between Russian officials and the Trump campaign. Sessions was an early Trump supporter.

"I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign, and I didn't have -- did not have communications with the Russians, and I'm unable to comment on that," Sessions told Sen. Franken.

The AG insisted Thursday that he could not recall whether the campaign came up on Sept. 8 when he had a sit-down meeting with Russia's Ambassador Sergey I. Kislyak. He has insisted the meetings were related to his work in the Senate, not his involvement in Trump's campaign.

National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was forced to resign last month after failing to disclose conversations with Kislyak to Vice President Mike Pence.

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee, in a letter to the FBI and Justice Department, demanded "an immediate criminal investigation" into Sessions' statements, and whether they could constitute perjury or lying to Congress.

"Attorney General Jeff Sessions lied under oath: For that he must resign," said  U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., a Judiciary Committee member. "Despite swearing to tell the truth, Sessions told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he 'did not have communication with the Russians.'

"Jeff Sessions failed at his duty even before he took the job.  He is unfit to serve in his position and cannot be trusted to oversee any investigation of the Trump campaign's ties to the Russians."

Similarly, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said:  "If AG#Sessions lied to mislead the American people during his confirmation hearing, he should resign."

"This isn't about politics -- this is about the integrity of our election and our national security," Murray added.

During the 2016 campaign, Sessions was free with his partisan remarks, saying then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch needed to excuse herself and have a special prosecutor appointed to probe Hillary Clinton's emails.

So far, faced with a far more serious situation, Congress' Republican rulers have resisted calls for a sweeping independent investigation of Russia's hacking of emails, intervention in the campaign, and backstage contacts.