The question Democrats are now using to accuse Attorney General Jeff Sessions of lying under oath was based on a discredited news report published by CNN.
Democratic leaders in Congress, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), are calling on Sessions to resign for saying he did not meet with Russian officials to discuss the 2016 presidential election during his confirmation hearing.
Democrats say Sessions lied under oath, even though Sessions has been consistent in saying he did not discuss the presidential election with the Russian ambassador but met with numerous ambassadors in his capacity as a senior member of the Armed Services Committee.
Democrats are pointing to a question asked by Sen. Al Franken (D., Minn.) during a confirmation hearing on Jan. 10. The question was based on a CNN report that relied on a fake dossier alleging that Russians had compromising information on President Donald Trump. The dossier was then published by BuzzFeed and was riddled with errors, including getting basic facts about Russia wrong.
The dossier was unverified and has since been largely discredited. BuzzFeed is now being sued for defamation for publishing the name of a tech mogul company the dossier claimed was involved in hacking the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton aides during the election.
The basis of Franken’s question was asking for a response to CNN’s original report:
FRANKEN: CNN just published a story alleging that the intelligence community provided documents to the president-elect last week, that included information that "Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump." These documents also allegedly say "there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government." Again, I’m telling you this as it’s coming out, so, you know.
But if it’s true, it’s obviously extremely serious, and 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: 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.
Other news outlets contradicted items in the CNN report. CNN reported that intelligence officials presented Trump and then-President Barack Obama with a summary of the dossier during briefings in January.
NBC News later reported that Trump was not briefed on a two-page summary of the dossier, but it was brought to the briefing as an example of "unvetted disinformation."
The unverified dossier was written by former British MI6 agent Christopher Steele, who was hired by political opponents of Trump to dig up dirt on the Republican nominee during the campaign.
Democrats also pointed to a written question submitted to Sessions by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.) in their attacks on the attorney general.
"Several of the president-elect’s nominees or senior advisers have Russian ties. 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?" the question stated.
Sessions flatly replied "No."
Leahy’s question also specifically asked if conversations were about the 2016 election. Sessions has consistently said they were not. The meetings with ambassadors, including Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, were part of normal meetings as a member of the Armed Services Committee, according to spokespeople for Sessions.