Did anyone else notice on Tuesday night that when America’s grifter serenaded naifs with his Inside Voice, he never once mouthed the word “Russia”?
Whoever loaded his teleprompter knew that word would be buzzkill. It’s tough to look “presidential” if you’re reminding people that the so-called president got his gig with a cyberboost from an invasive foreign adversary. Better to avoid all Russia references, imitate a sane person, and soak up the inexplicable pundit approval.
But that was so 24 hours ago.
We now return you to our regularly scheduled scandal, because it was inevitable that our national security crisis would resurface to trump one ephemeral evening of smoke-and-mirrors theater.
The two stories that broke last night — courtesy of The New York Times and The Washington Post — complement each other splendidly. The Times reports that the lame-duck Obama team, fearing that the Trump-Russia dirt might be suppressed by the incoming regime, endeavored to spread the evidence far and wide within government circles, to ensure that key people would have leads to further investigate. The second paragraph is a doozy:
“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, according to three former American officials who requested anonymity in discussing classified intelligence. Separately, American intelligence agencies had intercepted communications of Russian officials, some of them within the Kremlin, discussing contacts with Trump associates.”
What is this, a Daniel Silva novel? At a time when Putin’s techies were busy hacking Democratic sites in order to boost Trump’s electoral prospects, why were Trump’s “associates” meeting up with Russian officials in various European cities? I barely had time to ponder that mystery last night, when, lo and behold, The Post broke a story about one particular Trump associate:
“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.”
Yes, folks, the guy who’s now the attorney general, the guy who oversees the FBI’s investigation of the Trump-Russia scandal, is a player in the Trump-Russia scandal. And during his confirmation hearing to become the AG, he denied that he was a player. In fact, he lied under oath.
Sen. Al Franken: “If there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?”
Sessions (a top Trump campaign adviser in 2016) : “I’m not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I didn’t have — did not have communications with the Russians.”
But, as it turns out, Sessions met twice with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, in July and September, during the time when Russians were busy hacking the Democrats. What’s fascinating about Sessions’ exchange with Franken is that he volunteered his lie (he “did not have communications with the Russians”) even though Franken didn’t ask Sessions whether he’d had such communications.
And Sessions apparently lied on a separate occasion. In a questionaire, Senator Pat Leahy had asked: “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?”
Sessions’ responded in writing with one word: “No.”
Naturally, the Trump regime has responded with various bits of spin. I’m not going to bother listing them all, because these people are serial liars. They didn’t deny that Sessions met with Kislyak — that cat is out of the bag and impossible to dispute — but said that even though Sessions did discuss “election-related news,” it was not substantive. According to one Trump spinner, “There’s just not strong recollection of what was said,” and that’s fascinating, because the now-departed Michael Flynn said he couldn’t remember what he discussed with Kislyak, either. Apparently this Russian has the power to induce amnesia.
There’s just not strong recollection of what was said … Wait, where have I heard a line like that before? Yup, it was during the Watergate hearings. Nixon’s players would plead vague memories, and start their sentences with “To the best of my recollection …”
Hey, it’s just another demented day in Trumplandia. At this rate, Sessions may need to find a military widow to help him drown in bathos, induce rivers of tears, and hope that the pundits say, “This is the moment he became our Attorney General.”
Some legal scholars insist that Sessions committed perjury, and Richard Painter, the White House ethics lawyer under George W. Bush, says that “misleading the Senate in sworn testimony about one’s own contacts with the Russians is a good way to go to jail.” I’ll leave that issue to others. What’s significant now is that Sessions’ role in the scandal is prompting key Republicans — including House heavies Kevin McCarthy and Jason Chaffetz — to ask that he recuse himself from investigative oversight.
Indeed, conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin writes today: “The question at this point is whether any Republican, especially one enlisted to help spin Trump’s defense, can be entrusted with this investigation. Given the latest development, the answer for more and more Americans will be an emphatic no.”
So bring on the special prosecutor. To quote Jeff Sessions, speaking on the Senate floor in 1999 when he insisted that Bill Clinton’s lies about sex was a scandal warranting removal from office:
“It is crucial to our system of justice that we demand the truth.”
Re, today’s column title: Hat tip to journalist Steve Twomey.