No sooner, it seems, do Democrats “accuse” Republicans of something, than they end up either doing it themselves, or being shown to have already done it.
In this case, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has bagged a twofer. She has both already done something, and has just done something, that she and other Democrats are accusing Attorney General Jeff Sessions of.
The “already done” is that she met with the Russian ambassador, the clearly overworked Mr. Sergey Kislyak, in 2010. But in the wake of the hysterical spin-up over Sessions’ two encounters with Kislyak in 2016, Pelosi responded in an interview on Friday that she had never met with Kislyak, the current ambassador from Russia. She did acknowledge that there is nothing untoward about congressional officials meeting ambassadors.
“You’ve been in Congress a little bit and you’re in leadership, have you ever met with the Russian ambassador?” Politico reporter Jake Sherman asked Pelosi on Friday.
After an awkwardly long silence, Pelosi answered, “Not with this Russian ambassador, no,” before quickly trying to move on.
“Is it normal to meet with ambassadors?” Sherman asked.
“Yeah,” Pelosi responded.
It emerged almost immediately that she had, in fact, met with Kislyak in 2010. So Pelosi misspoke, or forgot, or however you want to put that. Your call; we all run around shouting “Liar!” at each other way too much these days, and I’m not going to get on that bandwagon unless I really think someone has mens rea and means to lie. Pelosi could have simply blanked on this one during the interview.
Then there’s the “just done.” Pelosi clarified. Via her staff, she pointed out that the 2010 meeting* was at a group event with Dmitry Medvedev, then the president of Russia, and was not a one-on-one meeting. That’s what she meant about not meeting with the current ambassador.
“Leader Pelosi’s answer to the question today was clearly about private, one-on-one meetings, which she has never had with Ambassador Kislyak,” Hammill said. “The Ambassador was incidental to the 2010 meeting between then-Russian President Medvedev and then-Speaker Pelosi.”
In character, this clarification is similar to that of Jeff Sessions about his meetings with Kislyak in 2016. That said, it would be fair to say there’s more excuse for Sessions than for Pelosi. Sessions didn’t misspeak. He answered a different question from the one he’s being now browbeaten with by the Democrats and the media.
Sessions met once with Kislyak on senatorial business — as chairman of the Armed Services Committee — and encountered Kislyak once at a think-tank conference where Sessions gave a speech, and talked with a group of ambassadors afterward.
The question posed to him by Al Franken during his confirmation hearing would not have called either meeting to mind, because Franken didn’t ask if Sessions had ever met with Kislyak, in 2016 or at any other time. Franken asked if Sessions knew about reports that Trump’s campaign organization was having regular contact with Russian intermediaries in 2016. Sessions said no, and said that he, as something of a Trump “surrogate,” had had no such meetings with “Russian intermediaries.”
Sessions was never asked if he had met with the Russian ambassador. Pelosi was. Her answer was incorrect, in light of the question. Sessions’ was not.
There’s a difference in the other behavior of Pelosi and Sessions as well. For one thing, unlike Pelosi and Missouri Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill , Sessions hasn’t weirdly made sweeping claims of never having met Ambassador Kislyak, as if such claims signal special virtue of some kind.
He also hasn’t tried to pollute the situation by calling anyone else a liar. Pelosi’s spokesman went on to keep flogging the theme (Pelosi’s own) that Sessions had lied — in spite of having just issued the same type of clarification for his boss.
“The Ambassador was incidental to the 2010 meeting between then-Russian President Medvedev and then-Speaker Pelosi. Clearly, one needs to remind Politico that Attorney General Sessions lied under oath about a secret meeting amidst Russia’s hacking of our election, which he also didn’t disclose in a written questionnaire.”
Even Politico, not known for its fairness to Republicans, had the compunction to present this with a bit less spin than usual.
Of course, Sessions’ meeting with Kislyak in September 2016 was not a “secret” one. It was on Senate business, and was unrelated to the Trump campaign or the election.
* If we were enterprising Democrats, we could point out the coincidence that Pelosi’s meeting with Medvedev was on 25 June 2010. That was the month Russia’s Rosatom was bidding to acquire its majority ownership in the company Uranium One, and the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), over which the houses of Congress have oversight, was considering whether or not to approve that plan, given Uranium One’s significant holdings of American uranium reserves. CFIUS rendered approval in October 2010. By the logic with which Sessions and the Trump administration are being attacked, that circumstance must render all meetings by Democrats with Russians that year suspect.