Huge news on the Russia front.
In a nutshell: Trump Attorney General Jeff Sessions is in serious trouble for likely perjuring himself before Congress over his ties to Russia during the Trump campaign (on which he served as a top foreign policy adviser).
First, the NYT broke a story around 8 o’clock that the Obama administration was so concerned about the evidence it was seeing tying Trump and his associates to Russia that they did all they could to spread the evidence everywhere so that future investigators could find it. That story included the fact that several allied countries told the US that Trump associates were meeting with the Russians during the campaign.
Washington Post bombshell
Second, an hour later, the Washington Post broke a blockbuster story that Sessions appeared to have lied to the Senate Judiciary Committee during his nomination hearings under oath. Sessions told the committee that he had no communications with Russians during the campaign, and he did, twice. Even worse, Sessions reiterated that denial in writing. That makes it difficult for Sessions to say he simply misspoke.
Sessions’ staff did him no favors by issuing a statement last night claiming that at the time of the hearing Sessions remembered the meeting/conversation with the Russian ambassador, but simply felt it wasn’t relevant, so he didn’t mention it. That means Sessions can’t claim he simply forgot about the meeting. An hour later, Sessions issued a statement claiming that he had never “met” with the Russian ambassador. The problem? Sessions told the committee he had never “communicated” with the Russian — that includes phone calls, and impromptu run-ins, not just “meetings.” So claiming now that he never “met” the Russians doesn’t preclude having “communicated” with him, and thus possibly perjured himself.
Wall Street Journal bombshell
A third story then broke from the Wall Street Journal, reporting that federal investigators looked into Sessions’ contacts with the Russians during the campaign. It’s not clear when exactly this investigation took place or what it concluded. If the investigation took place before Sessions was confirmed as attorney general, there’s a good question to be asked as to why the Judiciary Committee wasn’t informed of the investigation or its results.
Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post wrote last night that it’s now “political suicide” if Republicans don’t call for a larger Russia investigation. Cillizza added:
Where there’s smoke and smoke and smoke and smoke and smoke, most reasonable people will assume there is fire — or that there should be an independent investigation to determine whether there is fire. Arguing that “there’s nothing to see here” is simply not a tenable position for Republicans at this point.
Trump’s defense of Sessions wasn’t entirely full-throated
Trump, for his part, said today that he has “total confidence” is Sessions. Of course, Trump has “full confidence” in General Flynn as well, until a few hours later he fired Flynn. Also, Trump said today that Sessions “probably” told the Senate committee the truth under oath. Probably? Also, the White House said today that it was unaware of Session’s communications with the Russians. That means the White House is distancing itself from Sessions, just in case they need to fire him.
Sessions is in trouble. It’s not clear yet if he’ll be forced to resign, and it’s even not clear if he’ll be forced to recuse himself from any DOJ investigation of Russia. Several Republican members of Congress have called on Sessions to recuse himself, and less importantly, many Democrats have called on Sessions to resign. (I say less importantly because Dems don’t have much power here, though their calls do help with the media.) Among those Republicans calling for recusal is Jason Chaffetz, a usual Trump defender who heads up the House Oversight committee. Chaffetz’s word matters, and the fact that even he thinks Sessions will have to recuse himself is a big deal.
Where does this head? It depends on how the story unfolds. First, are there any other bombshells to be leaked to the media? Second, how long does the story stay in the news, how long does this distract Trump from his preferred narrative of having turned over a new leaf the night of his address to Congress?
You can bet that Trump is none-too-happy about this distraction. But I’ve also read that Sessions is incredibly important to Trump, far more important than Flynn. So losing Sessions would be a big blow, and Trump will try to avoid it at all costs. All indications are that Trump has now ordered his staff to issue a full-throated defense of Sessions, while at the same time Trump himself is only willing to say Sessions “probably” didn’t commit perjury. But Trump is a fickle lover. He’ll drop you like a hot potato the second you start to become a liability. And today at least, Jeff Sessions is a huge liability. And don’t think for a moment that people aren’t dragging up Sessions’ dogged attack against Bill Clinton in 1999 for lying under oath. That too is doing Sessions no favors.
This Russia story isn’t going away
It remains to be seen how this plays out. One thing that’s clear, this Russia story isn’t going away, and it’s continuing to cause real, and increasing, damage to Trump and his coteries. Remember, Trump’s National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was fired for allegedly lying to VP Pence about his secret conversations with the same Russian ambassador Sessions secretly communicated with.
Politics is a fluid affair. Your fortunes change by the minute. At this moment, Sessions is seriously wounded, as is Trump. That doesn’t mean that he can’t survive this. It all depends on what else is reported about Sessions and Russia in the coming days, and how Sessions and Trump respond. But it ain’t good for either man. This only adds to the narrative that Team Trump simply cannot tell the truth about their ties to Russia. If those ties are so innocent, then why do Trump’s associates keep lying about it?
Finally, Sessions has announced a press conference to take place today (Thursday) at 4pm. Expect him to not admit any guilt, but possibly to say he wasn’t as clear as he could have been. If Sessions takes questions, things could get hairy.
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