Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Did we learn anything from the Sessions' testimony session?

That headline is a real question.  The answer:  No and Yes.

It was a very frustrating two plus hours of Sessions refusing to answer any question that touched on any conversation he ever had with President Trump.   He insisted that he was abiding by an unwritten custom of the Justice Department not to reveal private conversations with the president.

Yet, he admitted that the president had not invoked executive privilege, which he could have done.   Sessions' answer was to insist that he was not "stonewalling," as one senator accused him.  "I am protecting the right of the president to assert [executive privilege] if he chooses."   In other words, Trump gets to have it both ways:   he doesn't have to be accused of cover-up by invoking a blanket executive privilege;  but Sessions lets him pick and choose what he might permit to be said later.

There were two other problems with his testimony.  (1) his verbosity, which frustrated senators whose time was limited to five minutes;  and (2) his repeated use of "I don't recall" or the qualifier: "to the best of my recollection."    He stoutly denied that he had any memory of a third meeting with a Russian official, but he left open just the tiniest possibility that he just didn't remember it.   And he added nothing to the understanding of the firing of FBI Director James Comey or to what his "recusal" in the Russian investigation really meant.

Except that he really did.   To get anything from this testimony, you have to read between the lines and look at what is not said.  With so much evasiveness -- just as with so much smoke -- there's got to be something there.  Being so careful not to repeat anything Trump has said makes everyone even more curious about what Trump has said.

In addition, the story about firing Comey because of his handling -- last year -- of the Clinton announcement makes no sense.   First, if that was the reason, why did he wait until he had been in office for 3 months to fire him for something that he did last summer and fall?    Second, it happened just as the Russian connection leaks were heating up.   And also just after Comey indicated to Trump that he was not going to back off the investigation.

And third:   well, duh, Trump himself told the world in a tv interview with Lester Holt that he fired Comey because of the Russia investigation.   And then, on top of that, Trump told the Russian ambassador and the foreign minister, in their visit in the Oval Office, that getting rid of the "nut job" Comey had lifted a weight off him.  The weight, of course, being the Russian investigation -- which Trump was joking about with his Russian visitors.   And how do we know that?    The Russians were recording it and put it out on their propaganda tv station.   Nothing Sessions said comes even close to negating that.

Three conclusions:   (1)  Sessions is a master cover-upper;  but he did not change the narrative.  (2)  Sessions is not fit to be Attorney General.   But (3) is the big one.   One more coffin nail came through loud and clear:   the stupifying lack of interest by anyone on the Trump team of what Russia did to our election process -- or in preventing anything they might do in the future.

Sessions -- as the Attorney General -- acknowledged that he has not had any briefing from the intelligence community about our vulnerability to future cyber attacks.   Nor did he seem at all curious about what they did in our election last fall.   Nor was he concerned that President Trump never even brought it up with FBI Director Comey in any of the six private conversations he had with him. 

The line of questioning that came close to getting at this was asking Sessions what he talked with the Russian ambassador about when he did have that meeting in his office.   Sessions has previously claimed he met with Kislyak as a member of the Armed Services Committee.

Sen. John McCain, chair of the Armed Services Committee, subtly called his bluff by asking him what he talked with the ambassador about, even giving him a list of topics relevant to their committee.   Sessions leaped on one, claiming that's what they talked about;  but it was not convincing.   For someone following this closely, I think McCain landed a big body blow.

This, to me, is the most compelling question that everything seems to point to:   the lack of concern in the whole Trump orbit with Russia as an enemy of democracy.    And we should be asking them:   Why is that?


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