Q: Was Attorney General Jeff Sessions “caught colluding” with Barack Obama on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election?
A: No. That’s the headline on a story critical of Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia probe. But there is no evidence of such collusion.
The headline, in all caps, promises a shocking tale: “JEFF SESSIONS CAUGHT COLLUDING WITH OBAMA.”
But it’s also fictitious, as some suspected on Facebook, where users flagged the story as potentially false.
That persistent claim, published May 10 on conservativestories.com, was previously published on the same website in April and has been spread across social media since March, including through multiple YouTube videos.
The body of the story borrows largely from a March 2018 report on The Gateway Pundit website, which focused on Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the investigation into possible coordination between members of the Russian government and members of President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.
The Gateway Pundit accurately quoted Fox News legal analyst Gregg Jarrett saying that Sessions opted to recuse himself after consulting with “holdovers” from President Barack Obama’s administration. (A holdover is a term used to describe an administration official who stays on staff even after a new president takes office.)
At a March 2, 2017, news conference announcing his recusal, Sessions said he “met with senior officials shortly after arriving” at the Department of Justice about the matter.
“My staff recommended recusal,” Sessions said. “They said that since I had involvement with the campaign, I should not be involved in any campaign investigation.”
He added: “I have studied the rules and considered their comments and evaluation. I believe those recommendations are right and just. Therefore I have recused myself in the matters that deal with the Trump campaign.”
A statement Sessions issued the same day also said he conferred with “relevant senior career Department officials,” but did not specify who they were. On Fox News, Jarrett did not name “Obama’s holdovers.”
Even if those officials were Obama holdovers, there is no evidence that Sessions was “colluding” with the former president — despite the conservativestories.com headline, which isn’t supported by its own story.
Sessions was the first sitting U.S. senator to endorse Trump in 2016, and he served as a foreign policy adviser for the campaign. On the day he recused himself from the Russia probe, Sessions confirmed a Washington Post report that he met twice with the Russian ambassador to the United States during the campaign — meetings he did not disclose during his confirmation hearing.
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk false stories flagged by readers on the social media network.
“Attorney General Jeff Sessions News Conference.” C-SPAN. 2 Mar 2017.
“Attorney General Sessions Statement on Recusal.” Press release. U.S. Department of Justice. 2 Mar 2017.
Kiely, Eugene. “Timeline of Russia Investigation.” FactCheck.org. Posted 7 Jun 2017, updated 8 May 2018.
Hoft, Jim. “STUNNING: Jeff Sessions Cited the WRONG LAW when He Recused Himself from Russian Witch Hunt – Took Advice From Obama Lawyers.” The Gateway Pundit. 14 Mar 2018.
“JEFF SESSIONS CAUGHT COLLUDING WITH OBAMA.” Conservativestories.com. 10 May 2018.
Entous, Adam et al. “Sessions met with Russian envoy twice last year, encounters he later did not disclose.” Washington Post. 1 Mar 2017.
“Donald J. Trump Announces Senator Sessions as Chairman of National Security Advisory Committee.” Press release. Donald J. Trump for President via the American Presidency Project. 3 March 2016.