Poor Duce Donald. There he was before sunrise on Saturday morning, back from another week of presidenting, at his beautiful estate on the spectacularly beautiful ocean, reunited with his nearly as beautiful wife. In other words, in paradise. Or at least a reasonable Trumpian facsimile thereof. And how does he begin the day? Well, not as I would.
Instead, he dribbles out a long series of angry, semi-literate tweets claiming that President Barack Obama tapped his phone at Trump Tower before the election. Vile nonsense, flatly denied by Obama’s spokesman, and neither Trump nor his staff offered a scintilla of evidence to back it up.
Turns out that Trump had a terrible row with his top staff Friday afternoon before he left the White House, resulting in the immediate banishment of chief strategist Steve Bannon and chief of staff Reince Priebus from the gilded weekend at Xanadu, er, Mar-a-Lago (confusing because they are both in Florida but must keep in mind that the latter is in what we laughingly call the real world while the former is in the reel world).
The Duce is really mad that the lightweight normalizing of his not quite State of the Union (a president has to be in office a year before a joint Congressional address qualifies for the moniker) is, despite cynically amusing huzzahs from most of the media, already wearing off. Thanks to the false statements of Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Russian contacts forcing his recusal from any investigation into the burgeoning mystery of Russian involvement in the election or into any other aspects of the Trump campaign.
A President’s AG is very important cover, a critical backstop in case things go wrong. Much of that has suddenly been blown away.
Now, I am going to point out some things that might seem to help Trump. But in the end, they do not. They decidedly do not.
Just as ex-National Security Advisor Mike Flynn went down for something he should not have had to lie about, AG Sessions is now in very deep, shark-infested waters for failing to give what should have been an easy explanation of his behavior.
To recap, during his confirmation hearing, Sessions told Senator Al Franken (love saying that): “I did not have communications with the Russians.”
But that’s a flat-out falsehood for, as the Washington Post revealed, Sessions had two meetings with the Russian ambassador last year. First on the sideline of the Republican National Convention, then in a meeting in the then-U.S. senator’s private office. (There is no reason to assume they didn’t have additional communications when they were not in each other’s presence, though that has not yet been established.) Sessions also said he did not discuss the campaign with any Russians.
Now, unless he somehow forgot he’d met with the Russian ambassador ― very hard to believe, given the ongoing controversy and the certainty that communications with Russians would be an important topic of his confirmation hearing ― this is a flat-out lie from the nation’s new chief law enforcement officer. (A few have tried to spin that he meant communications about the election. But Sessions spent a whopping 18 years as a federal prosecutor and then two years as Alabama attorney general before his 20-year tenure in the U.S. Senate. His language in his confirmation hearing was crisp and precise. And demonstrably quite false. And of course he would have talked about the election, it was the main topic of conversations.)
The irony is there was no need for Sessions to conceal meeting with the Russian ambassador. His staff belatedly tried to claim he did so only as a Senate Armed Services Committee member, not as a Trump for President campaign official. As though he were not dual-hatted in most situations.
The Post went on to report that all but a few Senate Armed Services members replied when asked if they had met with the Russian ambassador last year; none had.
Now this is where it gets weird. For there was actually an excellent reason for Sessions to stay in particular touch with the Russian ambassador.
While most think of Sessions as a zealous anti-immigration, er, excuse me, “nation-state populist” who chaired the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration, I thought of him as, okay, a bog standard neo-Confederate but ALSO as the chairman of, god help us, the Senate Subcommittee on Strategic Forces. That’s right, among an array of devastatingly important related matters, nuclear weapons.
Who has the only “Strategic Forces” at all equivalent to ours? That’s right. Russia.
I worked with a senator who chaired that subcommittee; he spent a lot of time talking with Russians. We have major treaties in play, and a need to keep up with the latest state of play.
With Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain as devoutly anti-Russian as any American politician, even more so than Hillary Clinton, and thus unlikely to hang with the Russian ambassador, it was actually Jeff Sessions who was the highest-ranking official in his party on nuclear and other such matters who could liaise with Russia.
So Sessions actually had a very good answer on all this. To wit. In the course of meeting with dozens of ambassadors, he made sure to stay in touch with Ambassador Kislyak as a means of taking Russia’s temperature on crucial issues. Did the election come up? Of course. This is Washington. Kislyak heard the same spiel the press did.
There it is. Moving on.
Yet Sessions risked a perjury charge ― he certainly looks guilty, and lawyers say perjury has been pursued in not dissimilar situations ― by denying his very predictable meeting with one of the most watched ambassadors in the world.
Why deny the obvious?
This is a pattern, actually.
Why did Flynn deny even mentioning the new sanctions with the Russian ambassador when the sanctions had just been announced? The Logan Act is silly, never prosecuted since its genesis in 1799. And the Obama sanctions in question — the expulsion of some official cover spooks — were essentially lightweight. Russia does not rely on official cover agents for its espionage.
As for Trump, he does it, too, denying his crew have been in contact with the Russians when they obviously have. He’s even played dipsy-doo on the question of whether he has met or talked with Putin.
Maybe Trump and his crew have nothing to hide. His desire to avoid a new cold war with Russia is highly defensible, the Wikileaks revelations came out in essentially haphazard fashion, the efficacy of Russia’s intervention in the election was widely denied in the media before Hillary lost, and it is not at all clear that contacts between Trump World and the Russians are much more than incidental.
But if that is so, why do they keep on acting like they have plenty to hide? Why tell falsehoods about such obvious things? With so much smoke...
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