I remember another time when all Republicans could do was cry about the rule of law. They had a president they hated in the Oval Office who had just perjured himself in a civil deposition involving a private sexual encounter between two consenting adults. Unseemly? Absolutely. Unpresidential? No question. Illegal? Well Bill Clinton would be disbarred and impeached over this offense. I remember the coverage back then and how every single Republican operative would be in front of the cameras day and night decrying the lying under oath and how the President must go. History has judged Bill Clinton as well and found him guilty as charged for this particular offense. While he is still beloved, his presidency remains tarnished by how it ended. By becoming only the second U.S. president to ever be impeached, albeit not convicted by the Senate. The end game for the GOP was never really to see him convicted. It was to ruin him. To try and usurp his legacy and leave him as a presidential footnote rather than a noteworthy president.
During the height of the debacle, Bill Clinton was fighting desperately to defend himself against what was pretty obvious to everyone. In the civil deposition, he was asked about his relationship with Monica Lewinski and he responded "There is nothing going on between us." When this had proven demonstrably false, Bill Clinton gave us a new definition of hairsplitting spin:
"It depends upon what the meaning of the word 'is' is. ... If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement".
This became the infamous "what the definition of is, is" moment that signaled the beginning of the end for Bill Clinton. This exchange became the text book definition of parsing words in a deceptive manner. You know, lying. I understand that in the land of alternate facts, the word lying has seemingly become obsolete but maybe it is time to return to the days when you told an untruth you were called out for lying. For your consideration, I present to you Jefferson Beauregard Sessions. Jeff Sessions is the current Attorney General of the United States. He is the top law enforcement officer and lawyer in the land. When Jeff Sessions went for his confirmation hearing before Congress in January, under oath, he was asked point blank by Senator Al Franken (D-Minn) what he would do if he learned of any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of the 2016 campaign. His answers were very clear:
"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"
Oops. It turns out that his own office has now confirmed that he in fact had two separate meetings with the Ambassador to Russia, Sergey Kislyak, in 2016. One of these meetings was a private meeting held in September when the Russian hacking our elections scandal was at its height. The assigned lying spokesperson for Sessions actually claimed that there was "nothing misleading about his answer." You are correct. To call his answer misleading would be unfair. It was a lie. It was in fact the kind of lie that used to get you impeached, disbarred and prosecuted. Why? Because it was a lie under oath.
That was the big cry against Clinton. Not that he lied but that he had the temerity to smear the rule of law by lying under oath. That was enough in Republican minds to seek blood. Fast forward 20 years and it seems the bloodlust is not equal when it is one of their own. Like Clinton before him, Sessions is in full parsing mode because it appears this issue comes down to what we think the definition of "not" is. To understand the Sessions nuance, one must believe that when he said he did not have communications with the Russians during the election season that "not" was in relation to his role as campaign surrogate and not in his role as Senator and member of the Armed Services Committee. Bill Clinton must be proud. The Washington Post has reached out to the other members of the Armed Services Committee and of the 20 who responded, including Chairman John McCain (R -- Arizona); none said they had spoken to the Russian Ambassador during 2016.
The calls have already been shouted from the rooftops for Sessions to recuse himself from any investigation into the Russian connection to the Trump White House and/or campaign but I think that sorely misses the issue. Jeff Sessions does not need to recuse himself -- he needs to be prosecuted. Many of us learned our first civics lesson on perjury during the Clinton impeachment scandal when the rule of law was considered sacrosanct. You cannot raise your hand in a legal proceeding, swear to tell the whole truth and then lie. Or mislead. Or be duplicitous in your use of the word "not." If you or I was caught in this scenario, lying under oath to Congress, we would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Why does Jeff Session get special treatment? I want to take us back to 1999 and the rationale given by a Republican Senator for his vote to convict Bill Clinton of impeachment.
It has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt and to a moral certainty that President William Jefferson Clinton perjured himself before a Federal grand jury and has persisted in a continuous pattern of lying and obstructing justice. The chief law-enforcement officer of the land, whose oath of office calls on him to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, crossed the line and failed to defend and protect the law and, in fact, attacked the law and the rights of a fellow citizen. Under our Constitution, equal justice requires that he forfeit his office. For these reasons, I felt compelled to vote to convict and remove the President from office. It is crucial to our system of justice that we demand the truth. I fear that an acquittal of this President will weaken the legal system by providing an option for those who consider being less than truthful in court. Whereas the handling of the case against President Nixon clearly strengthened the nation's respect for law, justice and truth, the Clinton impeachment may unfortunately have the opposite result.
Who was this bastion for the rule of law and staunch defender of the sanctity of our legal system? Senator Jeff Sessions. I say we take him at his word from 1999. Ignoring his perjury before Congress will lead to people considering being less than truthful in court. We need to strengthen the nation's respect for law, justice and truth. It is crucial that we demand the truth. In closing let us not lose sight over what the underlying issues were. Bill Clinton lied about receiving oral sex consensually in a civil deposition. All the Republicans could do at the time was say the underlying issue did not matter because the lying is what was so corrosive to our republic and the rule of law. Jeff Sessions lied to congress in order to be confirmed as the Attorney General of the United States. He lied about meeting with Russian officials during an election season where all of our intelligence assets agree the Russians tampered with our election. Jeff Sessions may not be able to fully comprehend the definition of such a slippery word as "not" but certainly he will remember the word perjury since it was so close to his heart just 17 years ago. If not, it is time to remind him.