Jeff Sessions and the Politicization of Criminal Justice

Before Jeff Sessions entered electoral politics, the 29-year old lawyer served as a federal prosecutor for the Southern District of Alabama, and loved his new job. From 1975 to 1993, he represented the federal Justice Department in the Deep South, at a time when memories of segregation were still fresh. The experience of working to dispense justice in that environment shaped Sessions’ belief that he had an obligation to enforce the law with absolute fairness and impartiality, and step aside in any case where there was a hint that he might be acting out of bias or self-interest.

Those instincts served Sessions well during his years as a U.S. Attorney, but they have hindered his effectiveness as President Trump’s attorney general.

Trump has often expressed his bitter disagreement with Sessions’ decision, a few weeks after being confirmed as attorney general, to recuse himself from the FBI investigation into accusations that members of the Trump campaign had colluded with Russian agents to damage Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

After Sessions stepped aside, his deputy at the Justice Department, Rod Rosenstein, took over supervision of the investigation. In May, after newly fired FBI Director James Comey engineered a leak to suggest that Trump was interfering in the investigation, Rosenstein appointed William Mueller as special counsel to assure the political independence of the probe.

Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee on June 8 that he and other senior Justice Department officials had always assumed Sessions would be forced to recuse himself from the Russia investigation because of reasons he said he could not disclose.

TRUMP FELT BETRAYED

Sessions had been the first Republican Senator to endorse Donald Trump’s presidential bid and frequently appeared at events on behalf of Trump throughout the campaign.

Trump expected Sessions to use his power as attorney general to shield him as much as possible from the Russian collusion investigation. Trump and Sessions’ conservative critics saw his decision to step aside as unnecessary from a legal point of view, and an abdication of Sessions’ duty to protect the president from a politically motivated investigation.

Trump felt Sessions had betrayed his trust and blamed him for the political trouble that resulted from Mueller’s vigorous pursuit of evidence of Trump campaign-Russian collusion. Trump told reporters at the time that he wouldn’t have nominated Sessions as attorney general if he had known he was going to give up oversight authority of the Russian investigation.

When he first recused himself, Sessions said he had always been concerned that his “impartiality might be reasonably questioned” because he served as the top foreign policy advisor to Trump’s campaign last year.

A CRUCIAL ERROR OF OMISSION

His moral authority to manage the Russian collusion investigation was further compromised when he was tripped up during his confirmation hearing. In response to questions from Democrat Senators Al Franken and Patrick Leahy, Sessions failed to recall two encounters he had with Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak. In his January 10 confirmation hearing testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sessions volunteered the assurance that he “never met with or had any conversations with any Russians or any foreign officials concerning any type of interference with any campaign or election.”

He was confirmed by a narrow, party line vote less than a month later, but on March 1, the Washington Post reported that Sessions had met twice during the campaign with Kislyak. The firestorm of criticism in the media and Washington prompted Sessions to announce the next day that he would recuse himself from any Justice Department investigation related to the 2016 election.

One of the meetings with Kislyak was a brief, incidental contact at the Republican National Convention. The Russian was a member of a group of diplomats whom Sessions greeted after the then-Alabama senator had delivered a speech.

The second meeting was more substantive. Kislyak had asked for a September 8, 2016 appointment with Sessions at his Senate office, at which two of Sessions’ senior aides were present. Sessions said he had not mentioned the meetings during his testimony because they included no mention of the ongoing presidential campaign.

Sessions insisted that the meeting in his office with Kislyak was solely in his capacity as a United States Senator, not as a surrogate for the Trump campaign. He and the Russian ambassador discussed the situation in Ukraine and fighting terrorism. The topic of the election never came up.

DEMOCRATS KEEP ACCUSING SESSIONS OF LYING

Democrats have continued to accuse Sessions of trying of trying to hide his meetings with Kislyak from the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sessions insists his testimony during his confirmation hearings was truthful, insofar as those meetings had nothing to do with the campaign.

During his recent testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, the subject came up again, with Sessions responding in frustration to repeated Democrat accusations: “my story has never changed,” and, “I certainly didn’t mean I’d never met a Russian in the history of my life.”

COMEY FIRING LEADS TO A SPECIAL COUNSEL

In May, two months after he turned over supervision of the FBI investigation to Rosenstein, Sessions was dragged back into the controversy by his recommendation, seconded by Rosenstein, that Trump fire Comey for exceeding his authority by the way he handled the Hillary Clinton email investigation.

Critics pointed to Trump’s later statement that another reason for firing Comey was his annoyance with the Russian investigation. Sessions was then accused of trying to cover up an attempt by Trump to obstruct justice by firing Comey in an effort to halt the Russian probe.

The issue became moot when Comey arranged for the leak of a memo to the New York Times. It described a private conversation he had with Trump in February. The memo said Trump asked Comey to go easy on the FBI investigation of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who was fired after having been caught hiding the substance of his conversations with Kislyak from other administration officials.

Controversy over the memo prompted Rosenstein to appoint Mueller as special counsel to take over the Flynn investigation as part of a much broader probe into anything connected, directly or indirectly, to Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Trump has argued that the special counsel would never have been appointed if Sessions had not stepped aside from the Russian-related FBI investigations at a much earlier point, and that the attorney general is at least partially to blame for the political trouble and disruption that has resulted.

Sessions’ response to the steady drumbeat of criticism from Trump and the Democrats has been to defend his actions as required by his ethical responsibilities as attorney general. Sessions insists that he has always spoken honestly and truthfully, if not always accurately or completely, whenever asked about his contacts with Russians during the presidential campaign.

A NAIVE VIEW OF THE JOB OF ATTORNEY GENERAL

Jeff Sessions appears to be reacting to the complex legal and political situation created by the Russian collusion accusations as if he were still a young assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of Alabama. He never seemed to fully accept the idea that as the attorney general, he has a moral duty to protect the president in addition to his formal responsibilities as the head of Trump’s Justice Department.

Not every recent president has relied on his attorney general for policy guidance and political advice. Some were content for their attorneys generals to perform as good lawyers and administrators in running the Justice Department. But others expected help from their attorneys general on a political level, and to offer significant input on policymaking as well.

A prime example is Robert F. Kennedy. As U.S. Attorney General, he served as the chief political enforcer and sounding board for his older brother, John F. Kennedy.

Ed Meese was another attorney general who played an indispensable role as Ronald Reagan’s most trusted political counselor, not only in the White House, but also during Reagan’s earlier years as the governor of California.

More recently, Barack Obama relied heavily on Attorney General Eric Holder to carry out his civil rights agenda by cracking down on allegations of institutionalized racism in local police departments across the country, and by selectively enforcing federal immigration laws in order to help Democrats grow their support among Spanish-speaking voters.

The Obama Justice Department also deliberately ignored the anti-conservative bias in the IRS. Holder’s successor as attorney general, Loretta Lynch, badly damaged her professional reputation for non-partisanship by the way she hamstrung the FBI investigation of Mrs. Clinton’s email abuses, even before Lynch’s infamous private meeting with Bill Clinton on the tarmac of a Phoenix airport.

SESSIONS SHOULD HAVE KNOWN WHAT HE WAS GETTING INTO

The divisive outcome of the 2016 election created the highly politicized atmosphere into which Jeff Sessions stepped when he took over the Justice Department. As an experienced politician, Sessions should have realized that he would quickly become embroiled in Democrat efforts to use the Russia collusion investigation by the FBI which had been launched in July 2016, before Obama left office, and which was being used, even before the election, in an effort to discredit Trump.

By allowing his opponents to challenge his own position vis-a-vis the Russian collusion allegations, and then by submitting to mainstream media pressure to recuse himself, Sessions became an unwitting tool in the hands of the Democrats who were attacking his president, instead of acting as his chief legal defender.

In hindsight, it should not be surprising that Jeff Sessions was vulnerable to vicious, politically motivated attacks on his honesty and integrity. He had been badly humiliated before by liberals who unfairly denied him a promotion that he richly deserved.

In 1986, after he had served for five years as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, President Ronald Reagan sought to elevate him to become a U.S. District Court judge in the same region. With the support of Alabama’s Republican senator and an endorsement by the American Bar Association which found Sessions to be qualified to sit on the federal bench, his future as a jurist seemed to be assured.

SESSIONS’ CONFIRMATION HUMILIATION

But during his Senate confirmation hearings, Sessions became the target of the NAACP and other liberal civil rights organizations which accused him of anti-black bias. Most damaging was the testimony of four of his fellow Department of Justice lawyers that they had heard him make racially offensive remarks. Sessions claimed he did not recall making some of the remarks, and that others were taken out of context. He insisted that they did not reflect a racist point of view personally or in his performance as a federal prosecutor.

Sessions has always vigorously defended his civil rights record during that period, saying, “when I was [a U.S. Attorney], I signed 10 pleadings attacking segregation or the remnants of segregation, where we as part of the Department of Justice, we sought desegregation remedies.”

Sessions also denied accusations by civil rights activists that some of his actions as U.S. Attorney were thinly veiled attempts at black voter suppression. The confirmation hearings became even more racially polarized when the widow of Martin Luther King Jr. sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee urging it to block his appointment.

Even though Republicans held the majority in the committee, Sessions was rejected by a 10-8 vote. He lost the support of Republicans Charles Mathias of Maryland and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who voted against him.

Specter would later switch parties and as a Democrat, became the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2009. After having served with Sessions in the U.S. Senate for several years, Specter admitted that his 1986 vote had been a mistake, and that he had “since found that Senator Sessions is egalitarian.”

By then, the damage to Sessions’ reputation had been done. He became only the second nominee to the federal judiciary in 48 years whose nomination was killed by the Senate Judiciary Committee. He would later complain quietly that the Senate on occasion had been insensitive to the rights and reputation of nominees, but he did not become embittered. Sessions was described by one of his colleagues during that period as “a lawyer of the highest ethical and intellectual standards.”

THE ROAD TO THE U.S. SENATE

Sessions remained as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama until President Bill Clinton took office. In 1993, Clinton’s attorney general, Janet Reno, asked Sessions to resign so that his job could be given to a Democrat, considered to be normal procedure for an incoming administration.

In November 1994, Sessions was elected Attorney General of Alabama, defeating a Democrat incumbent. In 1996, Sessions won the open seat of retiring U.S. Senator Howell Heflin, 10 years after Heflin had voted to deny Sessions a federal district court judgeship.

Sessions was re-elected to the Senate by Alabama voters three times. He won his fourth term in 2014 against token opposition from a write-in Democrat candidate. Sessions eventually became the ranking Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, but the scars from its rejection of him in 1986 remained, just below the surface.

SESSIONS AND TRUMP

Donald Trump announced his candidacy for president on June 16, 2015, and Senator Jeff Sessions was one of his earliest supporters. He was seen wearing a Trump campaign “Make America Great Again” cap at a Trump rally in August 2015, and on February 28, 2016, near the start of the GOP presidential primary season, Sessions became the first GOP senator to formally endorse Trump’s candidacy. Sessions made frequent appearances at Trump campaign rallies, often accompanied by former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

Stephen Miller, who had served as Sessions’ longtime-communications director, also joined the Trump campaign. After the election, Miller became an influential White House advisor, often closely associated with former Trump chief political strategist Stephen Bannon.

Sessions was one of Trump’s first cabinet appointments, beating out Giuliani and longtime Trump friend New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who also wanted the attorney general job.

DEMOCRATS RECYCLED THE OLD ACCUSATIONS

As soon as Sessions was named for the post, Democrats mobilized their allies in the legal and civil rights communities to help them defeat his nomination.

They dredged up the testimony of his former colleagues against him in his failed 1986 bid for a federal judgeship, and went over his subsequent record as a prosecutor and U.S. senator, but found little new material they could use against him

Sessions was even labeled as a racist by his Democrat colleagues in the Senate, such as New Jersey’s Corey Booker, who should have known better from their personal contacts with him over the years.

However, his Republican colleagues in the Senate stood by him, even those who disagree with many of his conservative views. Sessions was introduced at his confirmation hearing by Susan Collins of Maine, one of the most liberal Republicans in the Senate, with warm words of praise. “He’s a decent individual with a strong commitment to the rule of law. He’s a leader of integrity. I think the attacks against him are not well founded and are unfair,” Collins said. Sessions’ nomination was narrowly confirmed by the Senate by a 52-47 party line vote on February 8, 2017.

Despite his confirmation, Sessions’ ordeal was not yet over. Fact checkers in the liberal media went over his sworn testimony looking for statements they could use against him.

TAKING SESSIONS’ STATEMENTS OUT OF CONTEXT

They found one in the transcript of his January 10 confirmation hearing, when he was asked by Minnesota Senator Al Franken what he would do as attorney general “if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign.”

Sessions replied that he was “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, and I’m unable to comment on it.”

In his January 17 response to written questions presented by Senator Patrick Leahy, Sessions stated that he had not been “in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election.”

Sessions has always claimed that it is clear from the context of his answers that he was talking about contacts with Russians that were related to the campaign. But Trump’s enemies in the liberal media didn’t care about the context. They were intent on tripping up Trump’s new attorney general, and they didn’t mind engaging in deliberate distortion to accomplish their goal. The onslaught came on March 1, with news reports screaming that he had met with Russians not once, but twice.

Sessions immediately released a statement declaring, “I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign. I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.” His Justice Department spokeswoman emphasized that Sessions had been questioned during his confirmation hearing only about communications with Russians regarding the Trump campaign. They did not ask him about the more than 25 meetings he had as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee over the previous year with diplomats from 25 foreign countries, including Russia.

THE MEDIA DELIBERATELY IGNORED THE TRUTH

But the journalists writing the stories claiming Sessions had testified falsely dismissed his claims that his statements had been technically accurate, and that the presidential campaign was never mentioned during his two encounters with Kislyak. That key detail was deliberately lost in the screaming headlines. These accusations were then pounced upon by Democrat leaders in an effort to destroy Sessions’ reputation.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi stated that Sessions had “lied under oath” and called for his resignation. Senator Franken accused Sessions of perjuring himself during his confirmation hearing. Congressman Elijah Cummings, a senior member of the Black Caucus, also called for Sessions’ resignation. He said, “when Senator Sessions testified under oath that ‘I did not have communications with the Russians,’ his statement was demonstrably false, yet he let it stand for weeks. He continued to let it stand even as he watched the president tell the entire nation he didn’t know anything about anyone advising his campaign talking to the Russians.”

Perhaps most troubling of all, the solid wall of Republican support for Sessions was broken. South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham publicly called for Sessions to recuse himself from any investigation involving a connection between Russia and the Trump campaign.

A VICTIM OF RUSSIAN COLLUSION HYSTERIA

Despite the lack of any hard evidence to support the Russia collusion hysteria, accusations of treason whipped the media into a feeding frenzy. Even nominally conservative publications took up the hunt for evidence that the Trump campaign had conspired with the Russians.

On March 2, the Wall Street Journal ran a story that claimed Sessions had been investigated for his contact with Russians, but it could provide no details about what, if anything, the investigation had found, or even if it was still ongoing.

That same day, Sessions surrendered to the pressure, announcing that he would recuse himself from any investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, accepting Senator Graham’s demand from the previous day.

The public had been effectively duped. A poll released later that week found that 51% of respondents wanted Sessions to resign as attorney general, and 66% wanted an independent investigation of the Russian collusion accusations.

COMEY’S REVENGE

The fever peaked two months later. On May 9, Trump announced that he had fired FBI director Comey. A week later, the memo Comey had leaked about his private conversation with Trump in the Oval Office on February 14 about the investigation of Michael Flynn was published. According to the memo, Trump told Comey, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy.” The White House quickly issued a denial, saying, “the president has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn. . . This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey.”

The new firestorm of controversy lit the short fuse that Comey knew would result in the appointment of a special counsel. The fact that it would be his old Justice Department colleague, William Mueller, was a bonus for him.

By this time, Sessions was no longer the center of attention. By recusing himself two months earlier, he had shifted the responsibility to his deputy, Rod Rosenstein. Attorney General Sessions had reduced himself to a spectator.

The Democrats had gotten their wish. Mueller’s open-ended search for evidence of an election-related crime had been launched, and would continue indefinitely.

ABC News reported that Mueller’s latest request is for a wide range of documents from the Justice Department and the White House relating to the circumstances of James Comey’s firing. Sessions assured the Senate Judiciary Committee in October that he would comply with Mueller’s requests, because, “I want him to complete his investigation professionally.”

Rosenstein is one of the Justice Department officials who has been asked to turn over documents to Mueller’s team. His position is legally complicated. As the number two official in the Justice Department, Rosenstein still maintains final oversight authority for the case, even though he was interviewed by Mueller’s team about his own role in Comey’s firing.

WHY THE RECUSAL WAS UNNECESSARY

Conservative legal experts such as former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy, writing in the National Review, argue that there was no need for Sessions to recuse himself or for Rosenstein to appoint a special counsel, because the FBI investigation launched in July 2016 into allegations of Russian interference in the election was not criminal in nature. In fact, it was a national security investigation into a potential threat to the country and was never intended to lead to a criminal prosecution. As a result, the fundamental reason for appointing a special counsel, to avoid the possibility that political interests would color a criminal trial, did not apply.

Even if Mueller did find proof that someone from the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians to influence the election, it is not clear that would be a crime that could be prosecuted.

Similarly, former Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz has said that even if Mueller could prove that Trump fired James Comey to derail the Russian collusion probe, it is unlikely he could be tried for obstruction of justice. That is because Comey worked for the executive branch of the government, giving Trump, as president, the legal authority to order Comey to halt the investigation or to fire him at will.

Despite any evidence Mueller’s investigation might turn up, if Donald Trump is the ultimate target of his investigation, he will never be brought to trial. At best, Mueller’s evidence could be used by Democrats to try to remove Trump through impeachment, but that is an entirely political rather than legal process.

Furthermore, it is unlikely that any lesser figures in the Trump campaign can be prosecuted by Mueller directly for collusion with the Russians. They could be charged for illegal related activities, such as money laundering or tax evasion, or so-called “process” crimes such as lying to federal investigators or failing to file documents declaring themselves to be foreign agents.

INVESTIGATIONS INTO POLITICAL CRIMES THAT NEVER HAPPENED

Previous politically motivated special counsel investigations have come up empty. For example, the 2003 investigation into the leaking of the identity of Valerie Plame as a CIA operative was aimed by Democrats at high members of the George W. Bush White House. It was vigorously pursued by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, even though Fitzgerald soon became aware that Plame’s identity had been revealed to a journalist accidently by Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Armitage. Armitage was not a political target, so he was never prosecuted.

But Fitzgerald did not bring the investigation to a close until he convicted Scooter Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, on charges of having given false testimony to investigators. Libby never went to jail because his sentence was commuted by President Bush.

Cheney, was the main political target of the investigation, but he remained untouched. After four years, the investigation was closed after having accomplished nothing.

The Plame investigation was at least based upon a real crime. Revealing the identity of a covert CIA operative carries stiff criminal penalties. But almost a year and a half into the Russian investigation, there still isn’t any evidence that a serious underlying crime was committed, or that any senior member of the Trump campaign colluded in an illegal way with the Russians to alter the outcome of the 2016 election.

NO EVIDENCE YET OF RUSSIAN COLLUSION

Meanwhile, the Mueller investigation has been running for six months, with no end in sight. It just recently announced its first indictments and criminal charges, most of them unrelated to the central allegation of Trump campaign collusion with the Russians.

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his business partner, Rick Gates, have been indicted for financial crimes they allegedly committed while working for the former government of Ukraine, not Russia, and for failing to register as foreign agents, which is normally a misdemeanor. Michael Flynn, who was fired by Trump for lying to Vice President Mike Pence about his conversations with Kislyak, seems to be in more legal trouble for his well-paid efforts on behalf of Turkey than anything he did for Moscow. Mueller and his prosecutors have been squeezing them in hope of getting them to give evidence against people closer to Trump, without much success.

The only guilty plea Mueller’s team has gotten so far is from George Papadopoulos, a young, unpaid foreign policy advisor who attended just one major Trump campaign foreign policy meeting last March. Papadopoulos had been duped by Russian agents. He offered to use those contacts to bring Trump to Moscow to meet with high Russian officials. The idea was immediately shot down by Sessions, who was chairing the policy session. Papadopoulos brought up the idea repeatedly to Paul Manafort and other campaign officials, and it was rejected each time.

Papadopoulos pleaded guilty in October to making false statements and “material omissions” to the FBI about his communications with Russian agents. He has been cooperating with the Mueller investigation in return for a reduced sentence. The meetings with Russian leaders that he had proposed to the Trump campaign never took place.

WHAT WAS SAID WHILE THEY WERE WALKING OUT THE DOOR

Another onetime Trump campaign foreign policy advisor, Carter Page, has been under intense FBI investigation, because of his contacts with the Russians during the campaign. In his closed-door testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, Page said he mentioned to Sessions last year that he was about to fly to Russia to give a speech at the New Economic School in Moscow, where he would also be meeting with Russian government officials. Page said that Sessions gave him no response. The encounter took place at the Capitol Hill Club for Republicans. “I mentioned it to him in passing. . . as we were walking out the door,” Page said.

The incidents with Page and Papadopoulos are hardly evidence that Sessions was part of an effort to collude with the Russians. They are only significant because on October 18, Sessions told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he had no knowledge of any contact between Trump campaign advisors and Russians with ties to the Kremlin.

That was before Mueller announced he had accepted a plea from Papadopoulos to a minor charge of misleading investigators in return for his cooperation as a witness, and before the release of a transcript of Page’s testimony.

SESSIONS ON THE HOT SEAT AGAIN

Those reports put Sessions on the defensive during his scheduled testimony on November 14 before the House Judiciary Committee. It turned out to be an extensive grilling before live television cameras that lasted several hours.

Democrats were again eager to nail Sessions for giving false testimony to the Senate. Sessions was ready for them. He said he had no recollection at all of Page telling him about his trip to Moscow. With regard to Papadopoulos, Sessions said he only remembered shooting down his proposal to set up a meeting between Trump and the Russians after hearing about the young man’s guilty plea.

“I had no recollection of this meeting with Mr. Papadopoulos until I saw news reports,” Sessions told the House committee. “I do now recall the meeting at Trump Tower.” Sessions said he still could not recall exactly what Papadopoulos said, but that he “believes I made clear to him” that “he was not authorized to represent the campaign with the Russian government or any other foreign government, for that matter.”

He added, “I pushed back against his suggestion (of arranging a meeting between Trump and Russian officials) that I thought may have been improper.” Sessions also said he was “confident” he never exchanged texts or emails with Papadopoulos on any subject during the rest of the campaign.

Sessions attributes his hazy recollection of these incidents to the intensity of the Trump campaign, added to his own duties as a U.S. senator. “It was a brilliant campaign in many ways, but it was a form of chaos in many ways from day one. Sleep was in short supply.”

With regard to Page’s claim of having a brief encounter with Sessions, he said, “while I do not challenge his account, I have no recollection” of speaking with him at the Capitol Hill Club.

DEMOCRATS REFUSE TO LISTEN

Democrats on the committee refused to accept that answer as sufficient. Congressman Eric Swalwell asked incredulously, “He told you he was going to Russia. He was on the (Trump campaign’s) national security team. You didn’t tell him not to go?”

Sessions responded by denying that he had the authority or responsibility to do so. “Am I supposed to tell him not to go on a trip?” he asked incredulously.

“Mr. Page said that after the meeting [at the Capitol Hill Club] was over, he said he was going to Russia and I had no response. I don’t think that means I’ve done anything dishonest,” Sessions added.

When Congressman Hakeem Jeffries continued to press the point, Sessions reacted angrily.

“Does that (conversation with Page) establish some sort of improper contact with Russians?” Sessions snapped. “He’s not Russian, you know.”

REPUBLICANS DEMANDING THEIR OWN PROBES

Sessions also was challenged by Republicans on the committee, who have demanded that he launch additional special counsel investigations, similar to Mueller’s, to look into new evidence of serious Democrat wrongdoing which impacted the election.

Congressmen Jim Jordan of Ohio and Matt Gaetz of Florida wrote in a Fox News op-ed that Sessions should appoint a special counsel to investigate the actions taken by Comey and Loretta Lynch that resulted in the closure without an indictment of the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails despite ample evidence cited by Comey of criminal wrongdoing.

“It’s time for Jeff Sessions to name a special counsel and get answers for the American people,” the two congressmen wrote. “If not, he should step down.”

One of Sessions’ Justice Department assistants responded, “Sessions has directed senior federal prosecutors to evaluate Republican members’ [written] requests [in July and September] for a special counsel,” and that the prosecutors will make the appropriate recommendations, including “whether any matters merit the appointment of a special counsel.”

When a clearly frustrated Jordan asked Sessions, “What’s it going to take to actually get a special counsel” on FBI/DOJ handling of Clinton probe, the attorney general calmly replied, “It would take a factual basis that meets the standards of the appointment of a special counsel,” without explaining further.

Sessions also told Jordan at the November 14 hearing that he could not answer questions about whether the FBI played any role in funding the notorious Trump dossier. Its author, former British MI6 spy Christopher Steele, had been secretly hired by the lawyer for the Clinton campaign and the Democrat National Committee to do opposition research against Trump during the campaign.

In a separate letter recently sent to the committee, Sessions wrote that Justice Department prosecutors will look into the questions surrounding the involvement of Hillary and Bill Clinton in the sale of the Uranium One company in 2010, which transferred control of 20% of U.S. uranium ore to Rosatom, a Russian government agency. The sale was approved by the Obama administration even though Rosatom’s American subsidiary was under federal investigation for a host of crimes ranging from extortion to blackmail. The sale also resulted in a giant windfall of contribution for the Clinton Family Foundation, a half million dollar speaking fee for Bill Clinton and a visit with Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

SESSIONS ISN’T GOING AWAY ANY TIME SOON

Trump has called for Sessions and his Justice Department to be as tough seeking evidence to prosecute liberals who have broken the law and tampered with the electoral process as they are against his supporters who have been accused of conspiring with the Russians.

But his relations with the attorney general are far better now than at the start of the summer, when it became clear that the Russian collusion investigations would drag on indefinitely.

In July, Trump demanded in a tweet to know why “our beleaguered” attorney general wasn’t “looking into crooked Hillary’s crimes and Russia relations.” The one-sided public feud escalated. Trump said publicly that Sessions’ future as attorney general was in doubt. Many expected the president to fire him outright, or that Sessions would be shamed into resigning.

Neither happened. Sessions has made it clear he very much wants to continue as attorney general. He accepted Trump’s criticisms with quiet dignity, and did not hit back. Meanwhile, Trump apparently recognized that Sessions has been running the Justice Department in a way that is consistent with most of the president’s overall policies and priorities, with a few exceptions.

The turning point in their relationship seemed to come in early August, when Trump publicly praised Sessions for announcing that the Justice Department would be launching a government-wide crackdown to combat the leaks of classified information, combined with a review of Justice Department policy on issuing subpoenas to media outlets that publish sensitive information.

In September, when Trump went to Alabama to campaign for the GOP establishment’s candidate to take over Sessions’ old Senate seat, he had kind words for the attorney general, telling Alabama voters that he has been “doing a good job.”

CUTTING AID TO SANCTUARY CITIES

As part of the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigration law enforcement, Sessions has issued another threat to withhold Justice Department law enforcement grants to 29 local jurisdictions which declared themselves “sanctuaries” from the enforcement of federal immigration laws against those in this country illegally.

Sessions told a meeting of the conservative Federalist Society, “We are no longer allowing so-called ‘sanctuary’ jurisdictions to nullify federal immigration law if they want to receive our law enforcement grants. We have placed conditions on these grants to encourage the elected leaders of these states and cities to help us remove criminal aliens from this country.”

His threats have triggered a legal pushback by the jurisdictions in the form of lawsuits asking courts to issue temporary injunctions prohibiting the Department of Justice from withholding the grant money. Each case must be fought individually, which means it will take more time than had been expected for Sessions to carry out his threats to make the sanctuary cities pay for their defiance, but the effort continues.

HOW SESSIONS HAS IMPLEMENTED TRUMP’S POLICIES

Sessions told the same audience that the Justice Department is “proud” to defend President Trump’s “authority to suspend immigration of any individuals he deems are contrary to the national interest.” Sessions insisted that Trump’s temporary ban on immigration from terrorist-plagued countries is “rational” and “justified.” He expressed confidence that lower court rulings against the travel ban will ultimately be overturned “in the court of appeals and, if necessary, in the Supreme Court.”

Sessions recently issued an internal memo prohibiting the Justice Department from issuing regulatory guidance documents. Sessions has recognized such documents as a thinly disguised way for federal agencies to promulgate new policies without having to meet the public review requirement of the federal rule-making process. In explaining the memo to the National Lawyer’s Convention in Washington, D.C., Sessions said, “Guidance documents should be used reasonably to explain existing law, not to change it or re-write the law.”

Sessions also announced that he is ending the practice of “regulation-by-litigation.” The Justice Department will no longer agree to settle lawsuits brought by special interest groups by unilaterally changing existing laws or regulations. “The days of ‘sue and settle,’ when special interests could sue an agency, then get the agency to impose a new regulation in a settlement, often to advance an agenda, are over,” the attorney general said.

“ARE THERE ANY RUSSIANS HERE?”

Sessions is beginning to take the constant drumbeat of Russian collusion criticism with a sense of humor. Before his address to the Federalist Society, Session asked if there were “any Russians” in the audience.

“I just was thinking, I want to ask you: Is Ambassador Kislyak in the room? Before I get started here, any Russians?” Sessions said, eliciting laughter and applause from the crowd. “Anybody been to Russia? Got a cousin in Russia or something?”