Overlooked in the controversy over the firing of Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe by Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week was the little fact reported by ABC News today that McCabe just so happened to be the FBI official in charge of a federal criminal investigation into whether Sessions lied to Congress about his contacts with Russian agents – which multiple witnesses agree that he did.
While senior Senate Democrats, including former Senator Al Franken, have denounced Sessions for his convenient failure to recall his meetings with Russian “diplomats” during his confirmation hearings, despite being asked directly about them, today’s revelation is the first news of any consequences for the subsequently confirmed Attorney General outside of his forced recusal from the investigation into Russian electoral interference.
Sessions’ recusal led to the naming of Robert Mueller as Special Counsel in the investigation, and critics of McCabe’s firing just 26 hours before his scheduled retirement believe that the actual motive of the firing was to undermine McCabe’s credibility as a witness in Mueller’s probe.
If this is indeed the case, then Sessions should have rightfully recused himself from the dismissal of McCabe as well, especially since the new revelations suggest a possibility of a vengeful personal motive for the firing.
ABC News, however, quotes one source as saying that Sessions himself was not aware of the FBI investigation into his truthfulness when he fired the Deputy Director. After McCabe and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein briefed senior Republican and Democratic legislators on the probe in a closed-door meeting last year, there is no way yet of knowing whether any of Sessions’ former congressional colleagues tipped the Attorney General off to the investigation or not.
According to a lawyer representing Sessions, the Attorney General was interviewed by Mueller’s team two months ago and the FBI perjury probe into his truthfulness at his confirmation hearings has since been terminated.
“The Special Counsel’s office has informed me that after interviewing the attorney general and conducting additional investigation, the attorney general is not under investigation for false statements or perjury in his confirmation hearing testimony and related written submissions to Congress,” attorney Chuck Cooper told ABC News on Wednesday.
ABC says its sources indicate that McCabe initiated the criminal inquiry after receiving a letter from Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and then-Senator Al Franken (D-MN) urging that the FBI look into “all contacts” Sessions had with Russians and whether his meetings or subsequent denials of the meetings broke any laws.
Sessions testified in his confirmation hearings that he had no contacts with any Kremlin officials about the 2016 campaign, but The Washington Post later discovered that the then-Senator Sessions met with the Russian Ambassador twice during the campaign. Sessions tried to explain that omission from his sworn testimony by declaring that none of his conversations with the ambassador concerned the election.
Sessions also denied that he knew of any other Trump campaign officials who were in contact with Russia ahead of the election, but it was later revealed that he was present at the March 2016 meeting where campaign aide George Papadopoulos pitched the idea of setting up a meeting with Putin.
Sessions testified at his confirmation hearing that he did not recall that meeting, but his memory improved once reports of Papadopoulos’ guilty plea in the wake of Mueller’s investigation were made public.
All of these suspicious denials and sudden recollections by the Attorney General certainly warranted an investigation. Whether the decision to approve that inquiry ultimately led to Andrew McCabe’s dismissal and the loss of his pension is still uncertain, but, with Jeff Sessions’ credibility in tatters, suspicions are bound to be high.