Russia probe: Fresh trouble for US attorney general Jeff Sessions
In another development, it appears a fake document may have forced FBI’s former director James Comey to call a highly unusual press briefing in 2016 to clear former secretary of state Hillary Clinton in the case pertaining to her use of a private email server.world Updated: May 25, 2017 22:43 IST
US attorney general Jeff Sessions is facing fresh criticism for his failure to mention his interactions with Russians in a government form requesting top-level security clearance that comes with the position he holds.
Also, in another development, it appears a fake document may have forced FBI’s former director James Comey to call a highly unusual press briefing in 2016 to clear former secretary of state Hillary Clinton in the case pertaining to her use of a private email server.
Sessions had met Russian ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak twice as a US senator. He failed to mention that in his form, which required details of all contacts with foreign governments and representatives over the last seven years. Providing false information or withholding information is a federal crime.
This is the second time Sessions, a close ally of US President Donald Trump, has found himself in trouble over these meetings. He had also failed to acknowledge them during his confirmation hearing despite a direct question, and has had to recuse himself him from the ongoing probe into Russia’s meddling with the 2016 election and alleged collusion by Trump campaign officials, by the FBI, which reports to the justice department.
In Sessions’ defence, a justice department spokesman said in a statement, “As a United States senator, the attorney general met hundreds — if not thousands — of foreign dignitaries and their staff. The attorney general’s staff consulted with those familiar with the process, as well as the FBI investigator handling the background check, and was instructed not to list meetings with foreign dignitaries and their staff connected with his Senate activities.”
Criticism came fast and thick both from Republicans and Democrats. “In the Bush Administration someone who lied on a security clearance form would have been out the door within 24 hrs,” Richard W Pinter, the chief White House ethics lawyer for President George W Bush, wrote in a post on Twitter.
Democrats renewed their call for Sessions’s resignation. “He’s lied under oath. He’s misled on security clearance forms. It’s simple — he should not be the Attorney General,” Kamala Harris, the first-time Indian American senator from California tweeted.
There was no response from Comey about the revelation he might have been forced to call that unusual and controversial news briefing, without informing the justice department, at which he berated Clinton for improper use of the server but cleared her essentially, saying investigators found nothing prosecutable against her.
The Washington Post reported on Wednesday the FBI had received a document in the summer of 2016 which seemed like the work of Russian intelligence that alleged an understanding between the Clinton campaign and the justice department led by Loretta Lynch, a Barack Obama appointee, that investigation into her use of a private server will not “push too deep”.
For proof, it cited an email exchange between individuals that told the publication they did not know each other at all. The veracity of the document was never proven, but Comey is reported to have relied on it to call the news conference without conferring with the justice department.
The FBI believed the document was “bad intelligence”, according to the Post, and possibly a “fake send to confuse the bureau”.