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Hullabaloo


Thursday, March 02, 2017

 

Did Jeff Sessions tell a little, white lie?

by Tom Sullivan

That is the question raised by a Washington Post report this morning:

Then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) spoke twice last year with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Justice Department officials said, encounters he did not disclose when asked about possible contacts between members of President Trump’s campaign and representatives of Moscow during Sessions’s confirmation hearing to become attorney general.

One of the meetings was a private conversation between Sessions and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that took place in September in the senator’s office, at the height of what U.S. intelligence officials say was a Russian cyber campaign to upend the U.S. presidential race.
MSNBC reports the second contact occurred at a July Heritage Foundation event where Sessions "spoke informally with a small group of ambassadors, including Kislyak." The Post's report adds that the Heritage event was "on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention."

It's not as if Sessions wasn't asked.



The Post continues:
In January, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) asked Sessions for answers to written questions. “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?” Leahy wrote.

Sessions responded with one word: “No.”
Buzzfeed has a statement from a Sessions spokesperson:
A spokeswoman for Sessions told BuzzFeed News that he met with the Russian ambassador in his capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee — not as a representative of the Trump campaign. Sessions did not mislead members of Congress, she said.

“There was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer,” spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said. “Last year, the Senator had over 25 conversations with foreign ambassadors as a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, including the British, Korean, Japanese, Polish, Indian, Chinese, Canadian, Australian, German and Russian ambassadors. 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.”
The Trump White House muddied the water instead of calming them:
Sessions this morning gave a non-committal promise to recuse himself "whenever it's appropriate," NBC reports. But another member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, also a member of the Armed Services Committee, responds:
"I've been on the Armed Services Com for 10 years. No call or meeting w/Russian ambassador. Ever," she tweeted Thursday.
Which raises another question: Who arranged the meeting between Sessions and Kislyak, and what was discussed?

The Post story comes alongside a New York Times report that Obama White House officials were concerned that the Russia's involvement in the election might be swept under the rug by the incoming Trump administration. They took measures to preserve information regarding contacts between Russia and the Trump campaign across agencies "to ensure that such meddling isn’t duplicated in future American or European elections, and to leave a clear trail of intelligence for government investigators." None of the efforts were directed by Obama, according to former senior Obmama officials:
At intelligence agencies, there was a push to process as much raw intelligence as possible into analyses, and to keep the reports at a relatively low classification level to ensure as wide a readership as possible across the government — and, in some cases, among European allies. This allowed the upload of as much intelligence as possible to Intellipedia, a secret wiki used by American analysts to share information.

There was also an effort to pass reports and other sensitive materials to Congress. In one instance, the State Department sent a cache of documents marked “secret” to Senator Benjamin Cardin of Maryland days before the Jan. 20 inauguration. The documents, detailing Russian efforts to intervene in elections worldwide, were sent in response to a request from Mr. Cardin, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, and were shared with Republicans on the panel.
Any new investigations would now go through Sessions as the sitting U.S. attorney general. But in the wake of the Post report, that is now in question. If any criminal activity turns up, South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham told a gathering last night, a special prosecutor is needed and Sessions must step aside:
“If there is something there, and it goes up the chain of investigation, it is clear to me, that Jeff Sessions, who is my dear friend, cannot make this decision about Trump,” Graham said at a CNN town hall Wednesday night.

"If there were contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, they may be legitimate; they may be OK. I want to know what happened between the Trump campaign, the Clinton campaign and the Russians," he said.
A reminder from John Aravosis: