Jeff Sessions is like the slippery bar of soap you chase around the shower floor. He’s like the mouse you chase in vain as it slips through a baseboard crevice.
His guest gig yesterday, in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was a predictable farce, an ostensibly open session that kept everyone in the dark. What else should we have expected from Donald Trump’s servile attorney general? He refused to clarify the rationale for FBI director James Comey’s firing – a potential obstruction of justice, given Comey’s lead role in the Russia probe – but, hey, he did show us all the myriad ways that a federal witness under oath to tell the whole truth can say nothing.
“I won’t discuss any hypotheticals…”
“It would be inappropriate for me to comment.”
“I’m not able to discuss or confirm or deny…”
“It would be inappropriate for me to answer.”
“I am not able to characterize that fact. I wouldn’t try to comment on that.”
“I’m not able to comment on that.”
“I would respectfully not comment on that.”
“I’m not going to try to guess what I thought about that.”
“I would respectfully not comment on that.”
And my personal favorite, the winner of yesterday’s Orwellian Award:
“I am not stonewalling!”
Oh please. That was his whole reason for being there, to clam up for Trump. It was almost painful to watch him bob and weave about Comey’s firing – and his tawdry role in that potentially criminal (or impeachable) act.
Sessions had helped to concoct some reasons for dumping Comey, some job performance stuff that supposedly had nothing to do with Comey’s Russia probe. (Even though, as Sessions admitted yesterday, he’d never told Comey that he had any problems with Comey’s FBI management.) Sessions had supposedly recused himself from any issues relating to the Russia probe (because he’d been caught lying about his ’16 contacts with Russian big shots), so naturally he insisted again yesteday that his recommendations for firing Comey had nothing with the Russia probe.
Which was a crock, of course. On May 8, the day before Sessions wrote his recommendation letter, Trump tweeted that Comey’s probe was a “total hoax” and “a taxpayer-funded charade.” Was Sessions truly unaware that Trump wanted to fire Comey for that reason? Yesterday, Sessions refused to answer that. In his own discussions with Trump about firing Comey, did the Russia probe come up? Sessions replied, “I would respectfully not comment on that.”
Is Sessions discomfited by the fact that (1) Trump said on national TV that he fired Comey because of the Russia probe, and (2) that Trump told the Russians – the Russians! – that he fired “nut job” Comey in order to ease the “pressure” he felt from the probe? Yesterday, Sessions replied: “I don’t think it’s appropriate to deal with those kinds of hypotheticals…I’ll have to let (Trump’s) words speak for himself, I’m not sure what was in his mind.”
Would Sessions care to enlighten us about Trump’s mind, by sharing his communications with Trump?
No, said Sessions.
Were these communications classified?
No, the communications were not classified.
So was Sessions invoking “executive privilege,” to protect his communications with Trump?
No, only the president can invoke executive privilege.
So has Trump invoked executive privilege? Did he direct Sessions not to discuss their communications?
No, Trump hasn’t invoked executive privilege. Though he might do it, retroactively, some time in the future. In Sessions words, “I am protecting the right of the president to assert it if he chooses.”
So on what legal basis was Sessions refusing to answer these questions?
He said it was Department of Justice policy.
Is this a verbal policy, or is it written down somewhere?
Sessions said he didn’t know and couldn’t cite it.
And so on. Sessions got flustered at several points, especially while under fire from Senator Kamala Harris about the purported DOJ policy (Sessions: “I’m not able to be rushed this fast, it makes me nervous”), and indeed he has much to be nervous about. Because everyone in Trump’s orbit is risking an ignominious fate.
But perhaps the most sobering moment – in truth the most disgraceful moment – was Sessions’ admission that the Trump regime has exhibited zero concern about Russia’s ongoing cyber-invasion:
Senator Angus King: “Do you think the Russians interfered with the 2016 election?”
King: “But you never asked about it?”
That’s right, folks. The federal officer tasked with enforcing American rule of law said he can’t recall ever being briefed about Russia’s attacks on our democracy; nor can he recall Trump ever mentioning it. If a Hillary Clinton administration was behaving that way, the Republican Congress – screaming about dereliction duty – would’ve already drafted articles of impeachment.
You’ve probably overlooked last night’s Virginia gubernatorial primaries – because, hey, you have lives – but there were two important takeaways about the current political mood:
1. Democrats are stoked to turn out, and Republicans are not. The Democratic primary drew 540,000 voters; the Republican primary, only 340,000. If this behavior repeats itself in next Tuesday’s special congressional election in Georgia – in a district that’s been red since the ’70s – it may portend a Democratic wave in the 2018 midterms.
2. The winning Republican gubernatorial candidate, Ed Gillespie, a deep-pocketed establishment figure who was supposed to win by 20 points, eked across the finish line by 1.2 points. His challenger, a Trump clone with little money and supposedly little support, almost pulled off a stunning upset – thanks to a huge late surge by grassroots Trumpkins. If you’re still wondering why elected Republicans in Washington are sticking with Trump, this is why.