Have you heard? Jeff Sessions perjured himself during his Senate confirmation hearings.
It didn’t happen and here’s an excellent explanation of why not.
Here is the key exchange: Franken asked about “a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government.” Sessions answered: “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 Russians, and I’m unable to comment on it.” Anyone reading the actual exchange can see Sessions was referring to no communications “as a surrogate” just as the question’s very long pre-amble specifically referenced the focus of the question to that subject matter. Nothing about Sessions’ answer was false, nor could it be construed to be materially false or willfully false, or even false at all.
PolitiFact has a video of the exchange, as well as a transcript, to provide, as they say, “context.”
Franken: “CNN just published a story alleging that the intelligence community provided documents to the president-elect last week that included information that quote, ‘Russian operatives claimed to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump.’ These documents also allegedly say quote, ‘There was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump’s surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government.’
“Now, again, I’m telling you this as it’s coming out, so you know. But if it’s true, it’s obviously extremely serious and if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?”
Sessions: “Senator Franken, 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 didn’t have — did not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment on it.”
I’m guessing that PolitiFact added the emphasis on Sessions’ answer to make it appear that Sessions lied. That’s bad enough, but I’m actually kind of surprised they didn’t give Sessions a “Pants on Fire” for failing to answer the question that Franken is now pretending that he asked.
It’s not just Franken who’s living in an alternate reality – a reality where the question was “Did you ever, in the course of your duties as a U.S. Senator, have any conversations with anyone representing the Russian government, about any topic whatsoever?” Most media outlets are unsurprisingly running with an abbreviated version of the question that eliminates the context of the actual question.
Many of Sessions’ former Senate colleagues are piling on with Franken, including Claire McCaskill and Elizabeth Warren. I hadn’t thought it possible that I could loathe this trio of political hacks anymore than I already did, but it turns out that it was possible after all. They all know Jeff Sessions and I’m pretty sure they know he’s not a liar.
It’s especially surprising, though, that McCaskill is willing to call for the resignation of a member of Trump’s cabinet on so flimsy a pretext. She’s up for re-election in 2018, and Trump won Missouri with nearly 57% of the vote. Why would she risk it?
Here’s why. This spurious attack on Jeff Sessions is a direct response to the President’s State of the Union address. According to CBS, 76% of the people who viewed the speech had a positive reaction to it, and even a third of Democrats viewing thought he seemed knowledgeable. I’m 100% sure that if Trump had gone off the rails during his SOTU, if he had sunk, as he often does, to petty attacks on individuals or the press, or if he had in any way projected the cartoonish figure that many believe him to be, we wouldn’t be hearing about Jeff Sessions and Russia today. The Democrats would have held the story back for a rainy day.
If you say you believe otherwise, you’re either disingenuous or terribly naive. There is no doubt that the Democrats had been sitting on this non-story, waiting for for the right moment to release it and Trump’s unexpectedly good performance Tuesday night was the right moment. They applied it like a styptic pencil to stop the bleeding away of doubt surrounding the Trump presidency.
Remember, the only hope for Democrats is to leave the Trump Administration in ruins. The more people who come to believe that Donald Trump is capable of handling the many issues our country faces, the harder it will be for them to tear him down effectively. So every decision he makes, every word he utters, every appointment makes must be called into question.
So to answer the question posed in the headline, Trump’s first SOTU seems to have been extremely successful. So successful that Democrats are willing to risk Claire McCaskill’s Senate seat, Warren’s potential bid for the presidency and whatever small amount of credibility Al Franken has somehow, against all odds, managed to accrue.
Well done, Mr. President.