Thursday, March 2, 2017

Jeff Sessions Pressured to Recuse Himself From Probe Into Russia

"There aren't many people [in the House or the Senate] who would forget having a private conversation with a Russian Ambassador." – Larry Sabato Center for Politics, University of Virginia.

Mike Flynn did. And so did Jeff Sessions. Sessions, purportedly seeing ideology that he could identify with, was the first elected official to endorse candidate Trump in 2016, which he did on February 1, when other Republicans still wouldn't touch the candidate with a barge-pole. On March 3 Trump made him head of his national security advisory committee.

At the Republican National Convention in mid-July Sessions met, amongst a small group, Ambassador Sergei Kislyak.

In the meantime, on July 8 Wikileaks had leaked 20,000 emails sent or received by DNC officials, and on July 25 the FBI began investigating how the emails were accessed. On July 27, in a news conference, Trump said, apropos Hillary Clinton's deleted emails, "Russia, if the you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing."

On September 5 President Obama met with Vladimir Putin and told him to cut it out, referring to the alleged Russian hacking of the DNC, threatening serious consequences if Russia continued interfering. Three days later, September 8, Kislyak visited Jeff Sessions and two of his senior aides in his Senate office.

On October 7 the Obama Administration officially accused Russia of interfering with the US elections. Trump was elected president on November 9. Sessions had remained staunchly loyal to Trump throughout, despite his overt racism, xenophobia, sexism and bigotry and was nicely rewarded with the post of Attorney General on November 18, subject to confirmation. Democrats were up in arms, because of Sessions' anti Civil Rights/LBGT/Muslim/immigrant stance.

Weeks later, in early December, US Intelligence announced that Russia did indeed interfere in the elections in a way that favored Trump. 

In late December Kislyak was summoned to the State Department and informed of the closure of Russian-owned compounds in New York and Maryland, the expulsion of 35 Russians suspected of being Intelligence operatives, and the imposition of sanctions against Russia for interfering in the elections. Kislyak threatened aggressive Russian response. He left the State Department and called then incoming National Security Adviser Mike Flynn. It was later revealed that there were a few conversations that day in which Flynn reassured Kislyak that the US attitude to Russia would change after the inauguration. 

At his confirmation hearing later, Flynn denied having any conversations or meetings with Russian officials. 

On January 10, at Jeff Sessions' confirmation hearing, Senator Al Franken posed this question to him: "If there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government during the course of this campaign what would you do?" Sessions replied, "I am not aware of any of those activities… I did not have communications with the Russians and I'm unable to comment." 

On January 18 Sen Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vermont) asked Sessions in a questionnaire if he had been "in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election, either before or after Election Day." Sessions replied "No." He was confirmed on February 8.

Mike Flynn's 
was sworn in on January 20 but his lies were exposed and on February 13 he resigned. The 45th president said he knew nothing about Flynn's conversation with Kislyak, as did Mike Pence.

Sessions was the next domino to fall, although he hasn't resigned. Yet. On March 1 the Washington Post revealed the truth about his meetings with Kislyak, again allegedly surprising Trump et al.

In both Sen. Al Franken's question at the hearing and in Sen Leahy's questionnaire, the subject matter of the communication wasn't brought up or even intimated and nor was it in Sessions' replies to both. But in an attempt to dodge the accusations that he committed perjury in his confirmation hearing, Sessions declared, "I have never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign. I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false."

Naturally Trump defended him, saying he had complete confidence in Sessions, which Paul Ryan echoed, saying "we meet with ambassadors all the time," and adding that there was nothing sinister about Sessions not remembering he had met with Kislyak, and that there was no need for Sessions to recuse himself from the investigations into Russian election tampering and possible involvement with Trump and/or his advisers. 

House and Senate Republicans, including
 Senators Susan Collins, Rob Portman and Lindsay Graham, and Rep. Darrell Issa, felt differently and called for Sessions to recuse himself, to maintain the integrity of the Russia probe. 

Senior Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren and Chuck Schumer and Rep. nancy Pelosi were among those calling for Sessions to recuse and resign. Rep Elijah 
E. Cummings, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, issued the following statement:
"It is inconceivable that even after Michael Flynn was fired for concealing his conversation with the Russians that Attorney General Sessions would keep his own conversations secret for several more weeks. 
When Senator Sessions testified under oath that "I did not have communications with the Russians," his statement was demonstrably false, yet he let it stand for weeks—and he continued to let it stand even as he watched the President tell the entire nation he didn't know anything about anyone advising his campaign talking to the Russians. 
Attorney General Sessions should resign immediately, and there is no longer any question that we need a truly independent commission to investigate this issue." [Russian involvement.]
Sessions announced his recusal in a press conference on May 3. He had suddenly developed quite a memory, talking about his meetings with Kislyak in some depth but only revealing that which could prove his innocence. When questions got too close to the bone, however, he fell back that old fail safe, "I don't recall." 

Reporters had more questions than answers by the end of the press conference and the Russian story just isn't going away. It's ironic that the White House and the world only got to hear about Sessions' misstep through investigative reporting. So much for fake news.

The Trump administration has constantly denied contacts between Russian officials and anybody in the campaign. Now, as that untruth is being exposed and perhaps in an attempt to get ahead of another scandal, it has also revealed on March 3 that Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and influential adviser before Steve Bannon took the throne, also met with Kislyak and Mike Flynn in December

We'll see how long it is before Sessions resigns. Because for all his bluster, he can't be unaware of something Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters earlier today. "... with these revelations, [Jeff Sessions] may very well become the subject of it."

A sentiment echoed by Tim Kaine:
The dominoes are falling in the Trump administration.