Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ ethics issues stem from the misleading and inaccurate testimony he gave in his Senate confirmation hearing and from his failure to recuse himself from an investigation despite a clear conflict of interest.

At Attorney General Sessions’ confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on January 10, 2017, he was asked what he would do if he learned of communications between Trump campaign members and the Russian government during the campaign.[i] Then-Sen. Sessions responded, “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.”[ii] In fact, Sen. Sessions had met at least twice with Russia’s ambassador to the United States during the course of the campaign, including a private conversation in Sen. Sessions’ office.[iii] While it is unknown what exactly Sen. Sessions discussed with the ambassador during these conversations, his general denial to Congress of having “communications with the Russians” during the campaign was at best misleading and has been construed by some as outright dishonesty. The ACLU has since filed an ethics complaint for dishonesty against Attorney General Sessions with the Alabama State Bar.[iv]

Attorney General Sessions’ misleading testimony is especially concerning given his role in the investigations into possible Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election. As early as February 27, there were calls for Attorney General Sessions to recuse himself from the investigations and for the appointment of a special counsel, given his own involvement in the campaign.[v] Attorney General Sessions did recuse himself – but only after his meetings with the Russian ambassador were reported on March 1.[vi] Despite calls for resignation, he has refused to step down and continues to deny any wrongdoing in his communications with the ambassador.[vii] President Trump has expressed complete confidence in Attorney General Sessions and denied any need for recusal.[viii]

 

[i]Philip Bump, What Jeff Sessions said about Russia, and when, Washington Post, Mar. 2, 2017, available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/politics/wp/2017/03/02/what-jeff-sessions-said-about-russia-and-when/.

[ii] Id.

[iii]Adam Entous, Ellen Nakashima, and Greg Miller, Sessions met with Russian envoy twice last year, encounters he later did not disclose, Washington Post, Mar. 1, 2017, available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/sessions-spoke-twice-with-russian-ambassador-during-trumps-presidential-campaign-justice-officials-say/2017/03/01/77205eda-feac-11e6-99b4-9e613afeb09f_story.html.

[iv] Catherine Herridge, ACLU files ethics complaint against Sessions with Alabama Bar Disciplinary Commission, Fox News, Mar. 9, 2017, available at

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2017/03/09/aclu-files-ethics-complaint-against-sessions-with-alabama-bar-disciplinary-commission.html.

[v] Chris Strohm, Sessions Says He’ll Recuse Himself on Russia Probe If Needed, Bloomberg, Feb. 27, 2017, available at https://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2017-02-27/sessions-says-he-ll-recuse-himself-on-russia-probe-if-needed; Norman Eisen and Noah Bookbinder, Time for a Special Counsel in the Russiagate Scandal, Politico, Mar. 3, 2017, available at http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/03/donald-trump-russia-contacts-special-counsel-214859.

[vi] Mark Landler and Eric Lichtblau, Jeff Sessions Recuses Himself From Russia Inquiry, New York Times, Mar. 2, 2017, available at https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/02/us/politics/jeff-sessions-russia-trump-investigation-democrats.html.

[vii] Id.

[viii] Abby Phillip, Trump has ‘total’ confidence in Jeff Sessions amid calls for attorney general’s resignation, Washington Post, Mar. 2, 2017,

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2017/03/02/trump-has-total-confidence-in-jeff-sessions-amid-calls-for-attorney-generals-resignation/.