During his opening statement before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions began by attacking Sen. Al Franken (D-Minnesota) for a line of questioning posed during his Senate confirmation hearing that has since led to accusations of perjury. In March, the former Alabama senator and stalwart Donald Trump supporter claimed he didn’t have any contact with Russian officials during the campaign, which was later found to be untrue. Franken and his colleagues later demanded Sessions return before them to explain himself, which may have fueled the AG’s decision to go on the offensive.
“There is the assertion that I did not answer Sen. Franken’s question honestly at my confirmation hearing,” he began. “Former colleagues, that is false. This is what happened. Sen. Franken asked me a rambling question after some six hours of testimony that included dramatic new allegations that the United States intelligence community had advised President-elect Trump ‘there was a continuous exchange of information between during the campaign between Trump’s surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government.’ I was taken aback by that explosive allegation, which he said was being reported as breaking news that very day, and which I had not heard.”
“I wanted to refute that immediately,” he continued, adding that “any suggestion that I was part of such an activity” was “an appalling and detestable lie.” Unfortunately for Sessions, however, his prepared statement neglected to include the fact that Franken’s introduction of the then-breaking CNN report didn’t result in his levying any accusation against the potential AG. Instead, as the Boston Globe‘s Matt Viser and other reporters have pointed out, Franken asked Sessions “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?” As Viser put it, “Sessions answered a question that Al Franken was not asking. If there was a trap, he climbed in it himself.”
“It simply did not occur to me to go further than the context of the question and to list any conversations that I may have had with Russians in routine situations,” Sessions attempted to explain in his opening statement. The problem remains, however, that this isn’t what Franken or any other senators attending the Alabama politicians confirmation hearing were asking at the time.