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Attack on Jeff Sessions is part of new McCarthyism

Attorney General Jeff Sessions pauses during a news conference March 2, 2017, at which he said he will recuse himself from a federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 White House election.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions pauses during a news conference March 2, 2017, at which he said he will recuse himself from a federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 White House election. AP

Here is what Attorney General Jeff Sessions should have said when he stepped up to the podium and addressed reporters last week at the Justice Department: “At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

Sessions is the victim of the type of McCarthyite character assassination that the left used to condemn. Remember when accusing people without evidence of coordinating with the Kremlin was frowned upon? No longer, apparently.

In fact, what Sessions faced may be worse than McCarthyism. At least McCarthy was right when he claimed that there were Russian spies in the State Department (see Alger Hiss among others).

On “Meet the Press” this weekend, former Obama director of national intelligence James Clapper declared that the U.S. intelligence community he headed until a few weeks ago had found “no evidence” of any collusion between members of the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence. No evidence.

The suggestion that Sessions was colluding with the Russians and tried to cover it up is preposterous. Sessions was asked during his confirmation hearings by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., about allegations contained in an unsubstantiated dossier that “there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government.” Sessions replied, “Senator Franken, 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.”

He was clearly referring to the allegations Franken had just cited of “a continuing exchange of information” between the Russians and Team Trump. His answer was truthful. He was later asked in a written question from Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.: “Have you been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election, either before or after election day?” Sessions answered “No” – which, again, was truthful.

In hindsight, he could have clarified that he had met Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in his Senate office in his official capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. But why would he? A host of Democratic lawmakers – including then-Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, and Sens. Maria Cantwell of Washington, Bob Casey Pennsylvania, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, and Claire McCaskill of Missouri – have also met with Kislyak. That’s not surprising. It’s their job. Sessions was not asked about official meetings.

Then the Wall Street Journal breathlessly reported that Sessions had in fact met with the Russian ambassador at the GOP convention. “The Trump administration says Attorney General Jeff Sessions was acting as a then-U.S. senator when he talked to Russia’s ambassador at an event during last year’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland,” the Journal reported, “but Mr. Sessions paid for convention travel expenses out of his own political funds and he spoke about Donald Trump’s campaign at the event, according to a person at the event and campaign-finance records.”

This could be the biggest nonstory of a year. To clarify: Then-Sen. Sessions traveled to a political event – the Republican National Convention – using campaign money, not taxpayer money, as the law requires. The Russian ambassador was there as one of about 80 ambassadors participating in an official diplomatic program, coordinated with the Obama State Department. He and Sessions met at a public event where Sessions spoke.

How, exactly, is this a scandal? Answer: It’s not.

But that has not stopped leading Democrats from calling for Sessions’ resignation or leading news organizations to report on “a parade of new revelations linking the Trump campaign to Russia.” Please. And is it really just pure coincidence that the Sessions story broke just after Trump delivered a widely acclaimed address to Congress? The stench of politics runs high.

As for the witch hunts, some in the media need to take a long, hard look in the mirror. If they do, they may see old “Tailgunner Joe” staring back at them.

Marc Thiessen is a fellow with the American Enterprise Institute and former chief speechwriter to President George W. Bush.