The Right-Wing False Equivalency Machine: Conservatives Defend Sessions By Smearing Claire McCaskill

Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions is in a bit of hot water after it was revealed that he had met with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. during the presidential campaign. Sessions had previously stated under oath that he “did not have communications with the Russians.” Now some conservative news outlets, once again having to defend the indefensible, are pushing a false equivalency.

Missouri Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill should have checked her twitter feed before she sent out the following tweet on Thursday morning:

As The Washington Post points out, McCaskill’s tweet contradicted tweets she sent in 2013 and 2015 in which she said she was contacting the Russian ambassador. Of course right-wing media are having a field day.

“Tweets suggest McCaskill met with Russian ambassador, despite denials” crows the headline at the Washington Examiner. The National Review gives McCaskill benefit of the doubt on her own tweets, but wonders why she didn’t extend the same courtesy to Sessions.

A little while after those stories were written McCaskill clarified her tweet, posting two others that more fully explain what she was trying to say.

The controversy over McCaskill is nothing more than a red herring and Sessions’ defenders in right-wing circles certainly know it. Whether Claire McCaskill met with the Russian ambassador or not, no matter what the circumstances, is immaterial. At the time of her 2013 and 2015 tweets she was not involved in a presidential campaign, and there were no allegations of questionable connections between her and Russian officials.

Sessions, on the other hand, was an early backer of Donald Trump, and was regarded as a major Trump surrogate. When he met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in September the 2016 campaign — as well as Russian cyber-attacks — was in full swing. As they say inside the Beltway, the optics are not good.

And in the case of Sessions, it was more than just optics. It was the fact that he told a congressional committee during his confirmation hearings that he had not had any “communications” with the Russians. Sessions’ spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores explained to NBC News why Sessions didn’t lie when he made that statement.

Flores said “there was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer” because Sessions was asked about “communications between Russia and the Trump campaign” and not about meetings he took as a senator with the Armed Services Committee.”

That’s a prime example of what is often called “weasel words.” It remains to be seen whether Republicans in Congress will call Sessions’ denial “perjury.” It also begs the question, if the meetings were innocent contacts involving government business, as Ted Cruz suggested on Morning Joe, then why dance around the issue when asked about it?

This GOP game of “I know you are but what am I?” was old before King Orange ever stepped foot inside the Oval Office, and it is excessively tiring now. It’s hard to have respect for a party whose defenders constantly pull out the “both sides do it” argument when they feel the need to defend the misdeeds of someone who they shouldn’t be defending.

The people pushing the notion that there is no difference between McCaskill’s encounters with the Russian ambassador and Sessions’ certainly know that the difference is actually huge. They’re just banking on the Trump-loving GOP base not understanding it. And sadly, they are probably right.