A former U.S. Justice Department official says the liberal outrage over Attorney General Jeff Sessions having contact with the Russian ambassador during the 2016 campaign is much ado about nothing and Democrats are doing whatever they can to thwart the Trump agenda.
He also told WND and Radio America reports of a slush fund at the Justice Department created during the Obama years that is funneling money to liberal activist groups are a big deal and further evidence that Democrats turned a blind eye to the Justice Department when far more serious things were happening.
It’s the Sessions story that had the media in a frenzy Thursday after accusations the attorney general misled senators during his confirmation hearings in January.
At that hearing, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., cited a breaking CNN report that officials in the Trump campaign discussed the election on multiple occasions with agents of the Russian government. When asked by Franken what he would do if the report was proven true, Sessions indicated he was unaware of such activity.
“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. And I’m unable to comment on it,” said Sessions during the confirmation hearing.
Then, the Washington Post reported Wednesday night that Sessions had met twice with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in 2016. One occasion was a sideline chat after a speech at a conference held during the Republican National Convention in July and the other was at Sessions’ Senate office in September, with two of his aides present.
Democrats accused Sessions of perjury for his answer to Franken and for not clarifying the statement in writing after the hearing.
On Thursday, Sessions recused himself from Department of Justice investigations into alleged Russian meddling in the election, and he tried to clarify his earlier statement.
Sessions insisted none of his conversations with the Russian ambassador were related to the presidential campaign.
“Let me be clear: I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign,” he said. “And the idea that I was part of a ‘continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government is totally false. That is the question that Sen. [Al] Franken asked me at the hearing, and that … is the question that I responded to.”
So is Sessions in real political or legal trouble for his testimony under oath, or are his critics deliberately blurring the line between communication about the campaign and communication for other purposes?
Former Justice Department official Hans von Spakovsky told WND and Radio America the controversy is way overblown.
“Those calls for his resignation are all overblown, and there’s no reason for him to resign,” said von Spakovsky, who now runs the Election Law Reform Initiative at the Heritage Foundation. “There’s really nothing to this story.”
He said the Democrats are still in shock over losing the elections and are lashing out in every possible direction.
“They did not want Jeff Sessions to become attorney general because he’s a conservative, rule-of-law type of guy,” von Spakovsky said. “They’re seizing on this, even though there’s nothing really to it when you dig down into it, because they want to oppose anything the attorney general might do, such as actually start enforcing our immigration laws. That’s the real goal here.”
Listen to the WND/Radio America interview with Hans von Spakovsky:
Von Spakovsky said it’s important to understand Franken’s question in its proper context.
“It’s clear Sen. Franken is asking about communications between the Trump campaign and Russian intermediaries or agents about the election. Sen. Sessions had no such meetings with the Russians over the elections as a surrogate of the campaign,” he said.
He also said the meetings in question hardly qualify as election collusion.
“One of them was a conference at which there was a hundred people, ambassadors and their staff. They had been invited to observe the RNC convention by the State Department. The Heritage Foundation, a number of other organizations and the U.S. State Department had this conference at which Jeff Sessions was the keynote speaker,” von Spakovsky said.
“The idea that he engaged in some hush-hush conspiracy talk with the Russian ambassador in a conference with a hundred folks where he’s giving the keynote speech is just ridiculous,” said von Spakovsky
“The only other meeting was a meeting when he was a member of the (Senate) Armed Services Committee and he had a meeting with the Russian ambassador last year in which they talked about relations between the countries; no discussion of the election,” said von Spakovsky, noting Sessions met with roughly two-dozen ambassadors in 2016.
Several Republicans joined Democrats in demanding Sessions recuse himself from the federal investigation into Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 elections and any collusion it had with the Trump campaign. Von Spakovsky said there really was nothing for Sessions to recuse himself from.
“That’s premature because at the moment there’s nothing in front of the attorney general. The FBI has not sent over any kind of investigative file for him to look at,” von Spakovsky said.
While Sessions stands in the media and political cross-hairs, the Obama Justice Department is under fire for operating a slush fund to give a boost to liberal activist groups. Instead of sending money won through legal cases to the U.S. Treasury, the Justice Department sent billions to activist groups, including the National Council of La Raza, the National Community Reinvestment Coalition and the National Urban League.
Von Spakovsky and co-author John Fund exposed the slush fund in their book “Obama’s Enforcer,” which details the legacy of former Attorney General Eric Holder. Von Spakovsky said this activity is unique to the Obama Justice Department.
“This has been an open secret in Washington for years, but nothing has been done about it,” he said. “I would hope the new attorney general would this down and, frankly, go in and try to get these funds back if that can possibly happen.”
He admits the action is most likely not illegal, but he said it should have never be done.
“I do think it was unethical. I think any funds recovered by the federal government in a lawsuit should go to the U.S. Treasury because they belong to the American taxpayer. Those funds should not be given to third-party advocacy organizations, certainly not political organizations like La Raza,” he said.
Von Spakovsky said Holder politicized the Justice Department far more than any of his predecessors and added that Loretta Lynch was no better. He noted the federal judges scolded DOJ attorneys for their unethical conduct, and Holder was the only attorney general in history to be held in contempt of Congress for withholding documents related to the ill-fated and deadly “Fast and Furious” gun-running operation.
He said the people now venting over Sessions had no problems with the Justice Department from 2009 to 2017.
“We never heard any complaints whatsoever from Chuck Schumer or any other Democrats about that behavior,” said von Spakovsky.