Thursday, March 02, 2017

Speech honeymoon over; Russians are back

Sessions lied about talking to the Russians during his confirmation hearing.

Democrats escalated their demands late Wednesday that Attorney General Jeff Sessions recuse himself from overseeing an investigation into contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russian government after a disclosure that Sessions himself spoke with the Russian ambassador last year, seemingly contradicting his testimony at his confirmation hearing.

And some Democrats went further, suggesting that Sessions had perjured himself and demanding that he resign.

Just yesterday I posted the link that indicated there was still nothing but circumstantial evidence that the Kremlin influenced the 2016 election.  It's been clear for a long time that they tried to do so... but not that they succeeded in doing so.  This dribbling out of details that Trump's people have lied about what they know about the Russkies and how long they have known -- to Congress, mind you, an offense people usually go to jail over -- tightens the noose somewhat.  Once more, it's not the crime but the coverup.

At the confirmation hearing for attorney general in January, Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, asked Sessions about a CNN report that intelligence briefers had told Barack Obama, then the president, and Trump, then the president-elect, that Russian operatives claimed to have compromising information about Trump.

Franken also noted that the report indicated that surrogates for Trump and intermediaries for the Russian government continued to exchange information during the campaign. He asked Sessions what he would do if that report proved true.

Sessions replied that he was “not aware of any of those activities.” He added: “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign, and I didn’t have — did not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment on it.”

But the Justice Department acknowledged on Wednesday that Sessions had twice communicated with the Russian ambassador last year. The first time was in July, at the Republican National Convention, after he gave a speech at an event for ambassadors sponsored by the Heritage Foundation. The second time was a visit to his office by (Russian Ambassador Sergey) Kislyak in September. The Washington Post earlier reported both encounters.

Kisylak already has Michael Flynn's ass in his briefcase.  And you may recall that Elizabeth Warren was "silenced" by Mitch McConnell for "impugning the character" (sic) of Sessions when she questioned him aggressively during his hearing.

Vox gives Sessions some room to wiggle off the hook.

A word of caution: Benjamin Wittes, editor in chief of the blog Lawfare, said on Twitter that there’s probably not enough for a perjury charge. He argued that there is enough ambiguity about whether Sessions, at his hearing, meant he had no communication with Russia as part of his work as a campaign surrogate versus his work as a senator. If he was speaking exclusively about his work on the behalf of the campaign, Sessions could argue that his work as a US senator was a separate matter.

“There was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer,” Sessions spokesperson Sarah Isgur Flores said. “Last year, the senator had over 25 conversations with foreign ambassadors as a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, including the British, Korean, Japanese, Polish, Indian, Chinese, Canadian, Australian, German and Russian ambassadors. He was asked during the hearing about communications between Russia and the Trump campaign — not about meetings he took as a senator and a member of the Armed Services Committee.”

Sessions, for his part, made a similar argument in his statement: “I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign. I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.”

Sessions seems to misunderstand the allegations in his statement. It’s not whether he met with Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign, but whether he spoke with them in any capacity despite telling Congress he had no communications with Russians. His spokesperson’s statement and his own statement only deny that he spoke with Russian officials as a campaign surrogate, but he still apparently communicated with a Russian official as a senator.

The Post report suggests that Sessions’ contact with Kislyak, even as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee at the time, was unusual. Among the 20 (of 26) members of the committee who responded to the Post, none of them met with Russia’s ambassador last year.

However this goes in the days ahead, Sessions is damaged goods.  Even if he just recuses from any Russian investigation or appoints a special investigator, he's still there to lean on it, keeping Trump's massive ass covered as best he can.

Maybe Trump will blast out some Tweets soon, make everything worse.

Update, 3 pm CST: Sessions recuses himself.  Relevant passage from The New Yorker:

At a news conference on February 16th, when Trump was asked if anyone in his campaign had been in contact with Russia, he said, “Nobody that I know of.” He also said, “I have nothing to do with Russia. Haven’t made a phone call to Russia in years.” In fact, Trump spoke to Vladimir Putin less than three weeks before that—an event that the White House announced at the time, on January 28th. So how are we to understand the President’s plainly false statement? If he doesn’t acknowledge the calls that his office has announced, what are we to make of his categorical declarations that he had no contact with Russian representatives during the campaign? Now that he knows that Sessions, one of his earliest supporters, was in contact with the Russian Ambassador, will he take steps to reassure members of Congress that he is taking the matter seriously and has been honest about his own actions?

1 comment:

Gadfly said...

Agreed with Wittes there's nothing to hang Sessions on for perjury. And, the bigger picture is that Dems keep focusing on Russia, Russia, Russia, while ignoring our own efforts to influence elections.

Kind of like Bernie, in the one Dem debate, willing to talk about coups committed under GOP presidents, but never under Dem ones.