Oh, Jeff Sessions Met With Russian Ambassador During Campaign, Then Lied? Is That A Big Deal?
Also rejects claims by wascally wabbit that it is actually duck season
It looks like the Trump-Russia fuck-tussle is officially transitioning into the important Shit Hitting the Fan stage, as the Washington Post reported Wednesday evening that Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III met twice during the campaign with the Russian ambassador, then said during his confirmation hearings, in answer to both oral and written questions, that he hadn't ever spoken to no Russkies, ever. The official Trump line on all this is apparently to claim it's a big nothingburger, since Sessions was definitely meeting ambassador Sergey Kislyak while wearing his "member of the Senate Armed Services Committee" hat, not his MAGA hat, and also all the fuss over this is simply a plot by Barack Obama loyalists to step on Trump's hugely successful speech Tuesday night.
What we are saying is, it's another week of the Trump administration.
Hey, if Mike Flynn had to resign for lying about talking to Russia, will Jeff Sessions? Hahaha, only on Normal Earth, not here on Trump Earth.
So here are the basics: While he was was an advisor to Donald Trump's campaign on foreign policy, explaining in small words that we can't just nuke countries where Trump doesn't have golf courses, the future attorney general had two meetings with Russian ambassador Kislyak, one in July during the Republican National Convention, and another in September, in Sessions's office, at the same time Russian intelligence services were diddling the American election as hard as they could. Then, during his confirmation hearings to be attorney general, Sessions explicitly denied he'd ever had any contacts with Russians, no way. During oral questioning, Sessions answered a question by Senator Al Franken about what he'd do as attorney general if he learned members of the Trump campaign had met with Russian officials. Instead of answering that hypothetical, he went ahead and said he had no knowledge of such meetings, and volunteered that he had certainly not met any Russians at all:
“I’m not aware of any of those activities,” he responded. He added: “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy also gave Sessions a written question about Trump campaign contacts with Russians, asking
Several of the President-elect’s nominees or senior advisers have Russian ties. Have you been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election, either before or after election day?
Sessions had a really short answer to that one: "No."
Sessions's spokesperson, Sarah Isgur Flores, didn't deny that Sessions had met with the Russian ambassador, but insisted "There was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer," because Sessions thought he was being asked about meetings he may have held as a member of the Trump campaign, not as a senator, which pretty much made him two different people:
“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,” Flores said.
Flores pointed out that he'd met with a whole bunch of foreign types as a top guy on Armed Services, including conversations with 25 foreign ambassadors, Kislyak among them, and so there's really nothing to worry about. You gonna make a big deal about Sessions meeting the British and German ambassadors, too? A Justice Department official who defended Sessions said of the September meeting with Kislyak, "There’s just not strong recollection of what was said." QUIET ROOMS -- let's not make a big deal about it.
Just to prove it had done its homework, the Washington Post noted that it had contacted all 26 members of the Senate Senate Armed Services Committee to see if meetings with the Russian ambassador were routine for people on that committee, and of the 20 who responded, none had met with Kislyak in the last year, wearing a hat or otherwise.
“Members of the committee have not been beating a path to Kislyak’s door,” a senior Senate Armed Services Committee staffer said, citing tensions in relations with Moscow. Besides Sessions, the staffer added, “There haven’t been a ton of members who are looking to meet with Kislyak for their committee duties.”
That's pretty interesting! But maybe all it proves is that Jeff Sessions works harder for the committee than those other slackers.
Here's Sessions offering a very carefully worded denial to MSNBC:
Moments ago Jeff Sessions responded to reports on Russia. pic.twitter.com/iZKIsSPDpX— Morning Joe (@Morning_Joe) March 2, 2017
Nope, never met with any Russians to discuss a political campaign. And he didn't have foreign relations with that ambassador. It sounds like at least the first of those two meetings really may have been a nothingburger, or at the very least a White Castle nothingslider, based on how WaPo describes it: During the Republican convention, Sessions went to a Heritage Foundation event that was attended by about 50 ambassadors, and after he spoke, he spoke very briefly with a small group of ambassadors, Kislyak among them, and they said nice things about his speech. So, fine, let's just toss that one out. But Sessions having a one-on-one meeting in his office with Kislyak in September? That there's a burger, and we need to find out what toppings were on it, even if Sessions says now he hardly even remembers it.
There's also one big problem with the claim that Sessions only met the Russian ambassador wearing his Senator hat: If that innocent I-was-only-Senatoring excuse was the case, it seems like the sort of thing he could have mentioned when he was asked about contacts with Russia during his confirmation hearings. "Oh, well I met with the Russian ambassador as part of my duties as a member of the Armed Services Committee, but heavens, I made it clear I wasn't speaking on behalf of the campaign." Instead, his answers were straight, unqualified denials. Former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul told the Washington Post he wasn't all that surprised Kislyak would have wanted to meet with Sessions, but
“The weird part is to conceal it,” he said. “That was at the height of all the discussions of what Russia was doing during the election.”
You might even go so far as to call Session's categorical denial during his hearings a fib. Or even a lie. And by golly, in the past, Jeff Sessions has been very, very tough on fibs under oath. When Bill Clinton was accused of lying under oath, Sessions wasn't especially forgiving of nuance, like the difference between having sex and getting a hummer:
“In America, the Supreme Court and the American people believe no one is above the law,” he said. Sessions also voted “guilty” on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice during Clinton’s impeachment trial.
Yes, you may proceed with the schadenfreude now.
Not surprisingly, there are now all sorts of calls for Sessions to, at a minimum, recuse himself from any investigations of the Trump campaign and Russia; top Republicans like Lindsey Graham, Jason Chaffetz, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy are saying Sessions needs to stay far away from any investigation for the Justice Department to be seen as even remotely credible (update: McCarthy quickly walked back his call for Sessions to recuse himself). Al Franken, to whom Sessions insisted "I did not have communications with the Russians," is also calling for Sessions to step aside, calling Sessions's answer "at best, misleading," and adding,
It is now clearer than ever that the attorney general cannot, in good faith, oversee an investigation at the Department of Justice and the FBI of the Trump-Russia connection, and he must recuse himself immediately.
Then there are the calls for Sessions to resign. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement Wednesday it's time for Sessions to go:
After lying under oath to Congress about his own communications with the Russians, the Attorney General must resign [...] Sessions is not fit to serve as the top law enforcement officer of our country.
The top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, Elijah Cummings, also issued a statement calling for Sessions to GTFO:
Now, of course those folks are going to call for Sessions to resign, and he can afford to ignore the likes of them. But Daily Beast reporter Tim Mak says Sessions maybe in bigger trouble: He may have lost the support of the most Republican "Democrat" in the Senate:
Yeah, that's not looking so great for ol' Jeff. Finally, let's take the long term perspective on what a weird time we're in, courtesy of Politico reporter Dan Goldberg:
Sessions isn't good enough, he's not smart enough, and darn it, we're tired of him.
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