Some bad news for Jeff Sessions: A slight majority of Americans think he lied in his confirmation hearing.
Last week, the attorney general announced he’d recuse himself from any investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election after a Washington Post story revealed he met with the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak twice during the campaign, contradicting earlier testimony in his congressional hearing.
Now, a new poll from Quinnipiac University released Wednesday shows that a majority of voters think Sessions lied under oath, and that he should resign. Fifty-two percent of American voters think Sessions lied under oath in his congressional hearing, according to the poll of 1,323 voters nationwide conducted March 2 to 6, 2017, compared to 40 percent who think he only made an unclear statement without lying.
On January 10, Sessions was asked by Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) about communications between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. Read the exchange below:
FRANKEN: If there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?
SESSIONS: Sen. 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.
A week later, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) released Session’s written response to a question about if he had any personal communication with Russian officials during the campaign or the presidential transition. His response: “No.”
As the Post story revealed, however, Sessions had met with Russian Ambassador Kislyak twice during Trump’s presidential campaign: once in July after a Heritage Foundation event during the Republican National Convention, and once in September in the then-senator’s office.
Though voters may believe Sessions lied under oath, a perjury charge will be difficult to bring. Simply stating a misleading or false claim is not enough, as Vox’s Zach Beauchamp explains. In order to be found guilty of perjury, one must willingly deceive Congress — “to know that what you were saying was untrue, and say it anyway.”
Democrats were quick to attack Sessions on his misleading statements, with many calling for his resignation. This seems to have worked, at least with their base: According to the Quinnipiac poll, 51 percent of Americans think Sessions should resign. Unsurprisingly, that number breaks mostly along partisan lines, with 83 percent of Democrats urging Sessions resignation and 80 percent of Republicans thinking he should remain.
Sessions, for his part, has denied that his congressional testimony was at all misleading. “There was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer,” his spokesperson Sarah Isgur Flores said in a press statement. “He was asked during the hearing about communications between Russia and the Trump campaign — not about meetings he took as a senator and a member of the Armed Services Committee.”
More generally, Americans’ views of Sessions are mixed: 23 percent view him favorably, 43 percent unfavorably, and 33 percent say they haven’t heard enough to say.
Though it’s highly unlikely Sessions will face any legal consequences as a result of his misleading testimony, the controversy only furthers concerns about the Trump administration’s questionable relationship with Russian officials. Sixty-one percent of voters are very or somewhat concerned about Trump’s relationship with Russia, the Quinnipiac poll finds.