Navarrette: Sessions’ inartful testimony does not amount to perjury

The controversy swirling around the nation’s top law enforcement officer raises three questions:

• Does Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has sanctimoniously opposed amnesty for “illegal” immigrants out of respect for the “rule of law,” need a refresher on criminal law?

• Shouldn’t a former senator — who voted in 2006 to make English the country’s “national language” and co-sponsored legislation in 2007 to make it the “official language” of government — be fluent enough in his native tongue to give clear and coherent Senate testimony?

• And, when Sessions met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the campaign, where did the senator leave off and the campaign surrogate begin?

Things were bound to get tricky when a senator whose job requirements include meeting with foreign dignitaries began moonlighting as a top adviser to a presidential candidate with a bizarre soft spot for all things Russian.

But few observers could have predicted such a dramatic turn of events. A political lynch mob has formed, made up of the mainstream media, liberal special interests and Democratic lawmakers. They are all advancing the narrative that Sessions flat-out committed perjury in January when he told the Senate Judiciary Committee, in response to a question about possible contacts between Trump campaign surrogates and Russian officials, that he did not engage in any such activity.

“I did not have communications with the Russians,” Sessions said.

In fact, we now know that Sessions did communicate with Kislyak.

Sessions was smart to recuse himself from “any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for president of the United States.” But he has also said that it was not his “intent” to lie or mislead the members of the committee and that he did not discuss the election or other current events with Kislyak to any “significant” degree. Without mentioning Kislyak specifically, Sessions also acknowledged that most foreign ambassadors are “pretty gossipy.”

Well then, did Sessions and Kislyak talk politics to a less-than-significant degree? Are we to believe that a gossipy ambassador didn’t bring up the election? If so, did Sessions change the subject?

You see the problem. With every parsed phrase and convoluted explanation, Sessions digs a deeper hole and hands his adversaries more ammunition. The good news for the Trump administration is that none of it seems to be lethal.

Even in today’s “say anything” political culture, truth and fairness and decency have to count for something. Despite claims that Sessions engaged in illegal activity, his enemies don’t have the goods.

I confess that the accused is one of my least favorite public figures, which is a nice way of saying that I intensely dislike the man and much of what he stands for. He earned that reaction. Whomever Sessions was looking out for during all those years he served in the Senate, it wasn’t me — or anyone who looks like me.

Sessions is wrong when he opposes affirmative action and legal immigration, and just as wrong when he supports a border wall and an end to funding for so-called sanctuary cities that don’t really exist anyway. He is no friend to people of color — and he never has been.

Given all this, you would think that — as a Mexican-American columnist — I’d be eager to join the lynch mob and try to bring down Sessions before he even gets his boxes unpacked.

But, as much as I’d like to go along, I just can’t. Sessions’ enemies have no proof that he did anything wrong. Perjury isn’t just an honest mistake; it requires intent — and they can’t show that.

Now the Democrats who are persecuting him — whether they’re in Congress or part of the media — are making the same mistake. It’s so easy for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to say that Sessions “lied under oath” and “must resign.”

But that’s just more reckless and irresponsible talk in a political climate already saturated with it.

Time to move on, folks. Better luck next time.

Navarrette writes a twice-weekly syndicated column for the Washington Post Writers Group.

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