Friday, March 3, 2017

Should AG Sessions resign? Or is recusal enough?

Political events move too fast for me to write my blog the day before.   I wrote the following in the early afternoon Thursday.   However, at 4:05pm,  Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that he would recuse himself from any investigations that involve the Trump presidential campaign.   He emphasized that this decision was the recommendation of his ethics advisers and that it follows the  ethical guidelines to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest, given his close involvement with the Trump campaign.

But here's the question:   Why had Sessions not done this from the beginning?   I'm no lawyer and Sessions is.   If I know that he should have recused himself, why did Sessions not know this without having to wait to have a meeting with his ethics advisers to tell him so?   I guess it's in the same category of "not knowing" that he should have cleared up his testimony about those two meetings with the Russian ambassador that he denied when he gave the testimony. 

Sessions will completely remove himself from any involvement, and all decisions and oversight will be done by the Deputy Attorney General -- or, until Trump's nominee for that position is confirmed, by the Acting Deputy AG, who is a career, civil service Justice Department official.

This recusal will likely lower the temperature on this hot issue, although new developments also breaking on Thursday afternoon, will keep the drumbeat going for an independent investigation.   That latest development was a New Yorker story, confirmed by the White House, that Jared Kushner and Gen. Mike Flynn had together met with the Russian ambassador Kislyak in December in Trump Tower "to establish a line of communication," as they did with other foreign governments.

However, this was also at the time the Obama administration was about to impose sanctions and to make its public case that it was the Russians behind the hacking.   With his son-in-law now implicated in the Russian contacts, it's impossible to pretend that Trump himself was not knowledgeable about all this.

This story is growing, not dying down.  Some have said it's going to be bigger than Watergate.   I'll definitely be writing more about it.  But for now, here's the somewhat out of date piece I had written earlier to be posted for Friday's blog:


Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions has been caught misstating a fact about his own activities in sworn testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in his confirmation hearings.

Sen. Al Franken specifically asked him what he would do as Attorney General if he learned of any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated  with the Russian government in the course of the 2016 campaign.  Sessions answered that he was not aware of any such activities.  He added that he, himself, had been "called a surrogate a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communication with the Russians."   In another answer to Sen. Patrick Leahy, he gave a similar answer, denying any knowledge of anyone in the campaign having communication with the Russians.

Wednesday night, the Washington Post broke a story that Sessions did, on two occasions, speak with the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, during the presidential campaign.   Kislyak is known to be the top Russian "spy" in the U.S., as well as the head of their spy network here.

In response, the Justice Department says that then Senator Sessions spoke with Kislyak in his role as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and that they did not speak about the campaign.   One was a chance meeting with him at the Republican convention.  The other was in his office on October 8th where, among other things, they talked about Ukraine.   He said he doesn't remember any discussion about the campaign in either meeting.

OK.  Maybe that's true.    But, if so, why did he not just say that during his confirmation hearings, especially knowing the conflicting information about Russian connections with the Trump campaign.    Speaking in his defense, Sen. Ted Cruz, who was in the committee hearing, said that he understood that Sessions was speaking in the context of concern about connections with the campaign.   His answer was only saying that he had not had communications with the Russians about the campaign.

Well, but it's now been at least two weeks that the whole issue has become newsworthy again --as to whether the investigations by the two Intelligence Committees are impartial and whether they will be thorough.  Even more controversial have beenn the unsuccessful efforts by White House staff to get FBI and CIA leaders to say there's nothing to the stories about communications between the Trump campaign and the Russians -- and the successful efforts to get the chairs of the House and the Senate Intelligence committees to do what the FBI and CIA leaders would not do.  That is, essentially to go on tv and say "there's nothing to this story."  Paul Ryan has now done the same thing.

In short, it seems there is a cover-up underway.   And there had already been calls for Sessions to recuse himself from overseeing the investigations, as well as calls for an independent, special prosecutor on the whole Trump/Russia connections.

During all this, Sessions still said nothing about his two conversations with Kislyak, saying only that he would recuse himself "if it becomes necessary."  Only after the Washington Post broke the story did he come clean and explain the subject of those conversations.   But, are we to just take his word for it?   Since when is the bar that low?

As with Watergate and Bill Clinton's Monica scandal, it's the attempted  cover-up that does you in.   Looks like we may be in Act III of that melodrama.


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