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A former 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 that Democrats are doing whatever they can to thwart the Trump agenda.
He also says reports of a slush fund at the Justice Department created during the Obama years and funneled 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 has the media in a frenzy Thursday after Wednesday reports that Attorney General Jeff Sessions misled senators during his confirmation hearings in January.
At that hearing, Sen. Al Franken cited CNN reports 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 reports were 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.
New revelations show that Sessions was at an event that included Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the Republican National Convention in July 2016. They also crossed paths later in the year.
Democrats are now accusing Sessions of perjury for that answer and for not clarifying the statement in writing after the hearing.
On Thursday, Sessions did try to clarify.
“I have not met with any Russians at any time to discuss any political campaign,” he told NBC News.
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 says this 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 says 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. 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,” said von Spakovsky.
But why is there nothing to the story? Von Spakovsky says you have to understand Sen. 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,” said von Spakovsky.
He also says 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,” said von Spakovsky.
“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 are joining 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 says there’s 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,” said von Spakovsky.
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 instead 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 this slush fund in their book, “Obama’s Enforcer,” which details the legacy of former Attorney General Eric Holder. Von Spakovsky says 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. 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,” said von Spakovsky.
He admits the action is most likely no illegal but he says it should 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,” said von Spakovsky.
Von Spakovsky says Holder politicized the Justice Department far more than any of his predecessors and adds that Loretta Lynch was no better. He notes 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 says the people now venting over Sessions had no problems with the Justice Department from 2009-2017.
“We never heard any complaints whatsoever from Chuck Schumer or any other Democrats about that behavior,” said von Spakovsky.