Washington is reeling from Wednesday's late-night revelations that Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke with the Russian ambassador to the United States at least twice during the 2016 election—despite having denied under oath during his Senate confirmation hearing that he ever had any contact with Moscow.
Faced with a growing chorus of lawmakers demanding he step down—or at the very least, recuse himself from any further investigation into the connections between President Trump's campaign and Russian officials—Sessions has pushed back strongly against the accusation, calling it "false" and claiming that he "never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign." The White House, meanwhile, has written off the revelation as a politically motivated attempt to steal the thunder from President Trump's bizarrely well-received congressional address.
Whether Sessions will resign from the Justice Department, or attempt to weather this political firestorm, remains to be seen. Either way, he's almost certainly stuck with this Russian albatross around his neck for the rest of his political career—one which, should he stay in office, will forever taint the perception that he can serve honorably as the country's top lawyer.
But this Russia stuff isn't telling us anything we didn't already know about Jeff Sessions.
You see, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III was never going to be a fair, impartial or honorable attorney general. And it's not because of any new revelations of Russian interference, or congressional perjury. It's because, as we've known for years, he's a nightmare when it comes to race and civil rights.
Allegations of Sessions' bigotry have dogged the former Alabama senator for decades. He was passed over for a federal judgeship in 1986, thanks to his record of overt hostility to civil rights groups, as well as having allegedly called a former African American colleague "boy" on multiple occasions. He was also accused of having told the man at one point, "Be careful what you say to white folks."
As an prosecutor, Sessions oversaw a case against two Ku Klux Klan members accused of kidnapping and murdering a black man in Mobile, AL. During that case, he allegedly joked that he thought the KKK was "OK, until I found out they smoked pot."
Sessions called the 1986 fiasco the result of a smear campaign against him and denied that he was in any way racist, though he did not deny making the statements attributed to him.
But Sessions has done far more than allegedly say bigoted things in his personal interactions. On a policy level, he has been one of the leading voices against civil rights legislation, even calling efforts to decimate the Voting Rights Act "good news, I think, for the South."
His nomination by President Trump lead to widespread outrage from civil rights advocates, who called a Sessions-led Justice Department a potential nightmare for marginalized communities across the U.S.
"If you have nostalgia for the days when blacks kept quiet, gays were in the closet, immigrants were invisible and women stayed in the kitchen, Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions is your man." Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) wrote in a statement blasting the nomination. "No Senator has fought harder against the hopes and aspirations of Latinos, immigrants, and people of color than Sen. Sessions."
Civil rights icon and Democratic Georgia congressman John Lewis testified against Sessions during his confirmation hearing, explaining that "It doesn’t matter how Senator Sessions may smile, how friendly he may be, how he may speak to you. We need someone who is going to stand up, to speak up, and speak out for the people that need help."
(Sessions, for his part, testified that being called racist hurt his feelings.)
What's more, in the few weeks since he's been attorney general, Sessions has seemingly confirmed his critics' worst fears. He used his first speech as head of the Justice Department to stoke unfounded fears of crime and lawless immigration. He also rolled back efforts by the Obama White House to curb the use of for-profit prisons, and announced that his DOJ would "pull back" on pursing civil rights lawsuits against local police departments.
It's a series of moves whose cumulative effect is clear: Girding the existing power structures, while dismantling protections for the country's disenfranchised.
Which is all to say this: While these latest explosive allegations regarding Sessions' contact with Russian officials play into a broader narrative of Trump administration collusion with foreign powers, and may result in permanent political consequences for the attorney general, it would be disingenuous to say that they're what makes him unfit for office.
We've known why Sessions shouldn't be attorney general for years. It's a shame that wasn't enough.