Jeff Sessions on Trump-Russia Was a Triumph or Complete Disaster, Depending on Who You Are

Jeff Sessions
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions reacts angrily to questions from U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) as he testifies before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 13. Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

On Tuesday evening, Republicans and Democrats found themselves living out disparate realities with seemingly few points of convergence. Both sides agreed that, earlier in the day, Attorney General Jeff Sessions had testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

They disagreed on everything else.

The left has never trusted Sessions, a Southern conservative and early supporter of Donald Trump’s candidacy. That certainly didn’t change with Tuesday’s testimony, which Democrats and Trump administration critics found uniformly evasive. The New York Times editorial board wrote that Sessions “arrived in full body armor, testy and sometimes raising his voice to defend what he called his honor against ‘scurrilous and false allegations’ that he had colluded with Moscow.”

In The Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin, a never-Trump conservative, observed that Sessions looked “nervous and shrunken in his seat.”

The Trump-supporting right, however, saw an entirely different performance by the man who has promised to defeat MS-13, stop the recreational use of marijuana and send back every undocumented immigrant in the land. As far as right-leaning outlets were concerned, Sessions’ performance definitively laid to rest any issues about collusion with Russia or obstruction of justice by Trump and his associates regarding the FBI’s investigation. The whole mess of investigations, the unceasing charges by liberal politicians—it’s time for all of that to end, now that Sessions has made his eloquent and persuasive case.

Sean Hannity opened his Fox News show with customary bluster: “The Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, obliterates the left and their black-helicopter, tinfoil-hat Russia-collusion conspiracy theories, and slams the Democrats for spreading detestable lies during his very, very powerful Senate testimony,” he said.

Later in the show, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich made the following estimation of Sessions: “He was passionate, he used strong language, he didn’t back down. He had the facts, and he was prepared to go nose-to-nose with liberals every time they smeared him.”

Infowars, the conspiracy-fueled website run by Alex Jones, judged that Sessions had offered “powerful testimony that set the record straight” in its nightly news broadcast. The broadcaster, David Knight, charged congressional Democrats with trying to destroy “our liberties” and the U.S. Constitution, as well as “the movement behind Trump, the movement to restore our national sovereignty.”

Even the conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, not exactly known for sporting Make America Great Again gear, found himself cheering the Sessions testimony on Fox News, telling host Martha McCallum that “Sessions did a very good job fending off all of these charges. Where is the evidence of obstruction?”

The divergent views on what Sessions said—and didn’t say—are symbolic of how thoroughly divided the nation has become in how it interprets political news.

Something beyond mere disagreement is at work here—some deeper rift that may well portend a crisis of civic disunion. The left, animated by a loathing of Trump, is eager to find damning evidence—of collusion, obstruction, anything—that could lead to impeachment. Such evidence seems to exist, though its magnitude is in dispute.

The right, meanwhile, remains in the thrall of Fox News, which enthusiastically presents facts in a way favorable to the president and Republicans. Even more dangerous are internet conspiracy theorists, Jones foremost among them, who have their own complex agendas, and virtually none of the standards that a corporate entity like Fox News must ultimately answer to.

The result is an unceasing hurricane of reportage, observation, opinion, prejudice and vitriol, a furious storm that threatens to uproot the tender shoots of truth and reality.

And so Jeff Sessions testified on Tuesday.

We know that for sure—and not much else.