MANHATTAN (CN) — Calling on the Alabama State Bar to investigate Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the American Civil Liberties Union contends that the former senator’s testimony to Congress on Russia could violate prohibitions on “dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.”
ACLU’s deputy director Christopher Anders said in a phone interview that the three-page ethics complaint could, if credited, get Sessions disbarred for up to five years. Sessions could also face four lighter measures of sanction, including probation, private reprimand, public reprimand or suspension.
“It’s highly corrosive to our constitutional system of government,” Anders said, referring to the attorney general giving false testimony to Congress. “You have to have honesty and the ability to ascertain the truth, especially when the Senate is trying to carry out its duty.”
At his confirmation hearing on Jan. 10, Sessions responded in the negative when Sen. Al Franken asked him whether “anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign” had communicated with the Russian government.
“I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign, and I did not have communications with the Russians,” the then-senator responded at the time.
Sessions doubled down on this denial in his written response to a question by Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy.
“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?” Leahy asked.
Sessions replied, simply, “No,” but concedes now that he was mistaken in light of evidence that he did in fact meet two times with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
One of those meetings occurred over the summer at the Republican National Convention, and the other at Sessions’ Washington office in December.
Sessions has denied any intent to mislead Congress.
“My reply to the question of Senator Franken was honest and correct as I understood it at the time,” Sessions said at a March 2 press conference. He later added that he should have “slowed down” and given a different answer.
Sessions partially recused himself from “any existing or future investigations” the Department of Justice may be conducting into the Trump campaign, but not any probes into alleged Russian influence on the presidential transition or administration.
ACLU’s national political director Faiz Shakir noted in a statement that false testimony under oath is “one of the most serious ethical offenses a lawyer can make and one any state bar should investigate vigorously.”
“Alabamians and Americans from all walks of life should be assured that the organizations responsible for regulating lawyers in their state takes ethical violations seriously — no matter how powerful that lawyer may be,” Shakir added.
The ACLU’s complaint quotes Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct on the greater obligation for attorneys in public office.
“Lawyers holding public office assume legal responsibilities going beyond those of other citizens,” the rules say. “A lawyer’s abuse of public office can suggest an inability to fulfill the professional role of attorney.”
The ACLU’s complaint is dated Thursday but not released until this morning. It will now head to the commission to consider whether to open an investigation.
The Department of Justice did not respond to a request for comment.