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Thursday, March 02, 2017

The daily drip

by digby

A quick summary of where we stand now that Sessions has recused himself from the investigation, from John Cassidy at the New Yorker:
Whatever happens to Sessions, attention will inevitably focus on Trump. Two days after his well-received address to a joint session of Congress, the President finds himself in another fine Russian mess. Sessions isn’t merely a White House aide or a Presidential adviser; during the campaign, he was arguably Trump’s most important political backer, and now he’s the top law-enforcement officer in the country. If Caesar’s wife had to be above suspicion, surely the same thing applies to the Attorney General.

Had the revelations about Sessions’s meetings with Kislyak come as a one-off thing, the White House could perhaps have tried to shrug them off. But they are part of a much bigger story, which is still evolving. The number of Trump associates who have been accused of having undisclosed contact with Russian agents, or who have reportedly been investigated by the F.B.I., now stands at six: Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager; Michael Cohen, his personal lawyer; Roger Stone, a longtime political associate; Carter Page, an oil-industry consultant who acted as one of his foreign-policy advisers; Flynn; and now Sessions.

Raising the pressure on the Attorney General, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that U.S. counter-intelligence officials have been looking into any contacts Sessions may have had with Russian officials during the spring and summer of last year. Citing anonymous sources, the Journal story said that these inquiries were “part of a wide-ranging U.S. counterintelligence investigation into possible communications between members of Mr. Trump’s campaign team and Russian operatives.”

The outcome of the inquiry wasn’t clear, the Journal said. If it is still proceeding, the story noted, it means that F.B.I. agents are in the remarkable and unenviable position of having to investigate their boss. (The F.B.I. is part of the Justice Department.) According to the Journal, “The FBI’s role in the investigation into Mr. Sessions’ conversations left the agency ‘wringing its hands’ about how to proceed, said one person familiar with the matter.”

All this was remarkable enough, but the Trump/Kremlin news didn’t stop there. In a front-page piece, the Times reported that Obama Administration officials, during their final days in office, had sought to preserve evidence relating to Russia’s efforts to interfere with the election, including electronic intercepts and tip-offs from friendly foreign countries. The story also provided new details about the allegations of broader ties between Moscow and the Trump campaign.

“American allies, including the British and the Dutch, had provided information describing meetings in European cities between Russian officials—and others close to Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin—and associates of President-elect Trump,” the Times said. “Separately, American intelligence agencies had intercepted communications of Russian officials, some of them within the Kremlin, discussing contacts with Trump associates.”

For the Trump White House, the stories in the Post, the Journal, and the Times were a triple whammy. On Thursday afternoon, before Sessions spoke with the media, Trump said that he had “total” confidence in the Attorney General. Still, the Russia imbroglio is perhaps the only issue on which it is conceivable that large numbers of Republicans in Congress might break with the President. Amid the lovefest between Trump and congressional Republicans on Tuesday night, a proper public investigation seemed impossible to imagine. But, now, who knows? The F.B.I. and other counter-intelligence agencies are still on the case. And, whatever happens to Sessions, it looks like he won’t be in a position to interfere.

A fascinating story. It's obscuring a lot of other fascinating stories but that's how these things roll. The opposition has very little institutional power to stop him so a scandal slowing him down and eroding his power to maneuver as much as possible is the best we can hope for.