Thursday, March 02, 2017


Then-senator and Trump surrogate Jeff Sessions met twice with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak during the presidential campaign, then lied about this under oath during his confirmation hearings before becoming attorney general, The Washington Post reports.

This seems really bad for Sessions, but the right assures us it's all innocent. Yes, Sessions flatly denied any contact with Russian officials, which means he dishonestly answered the question he was asked in a Senate hearing, but we're told he honestly answered the question he thought he was being asked, so it's cool. Here's blogger Patterico (emphasis his):
At first blush it might look like Sessions told a falsehood told under oath, but I don’t think so. Here’s ... Sessions answering a question from Al Franken:
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: Senator Franken, I’m not aware of any of those activities. I’ve been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians. And I’m unable to comment on it.
I have bolded the qualification by Franken, which will be the basis of Sessions’s defense, and Sessions’s rather carelessly unqualified remark, which will be the basis of Democrats’ attack.

Democrats who are flipping out (Pelosi, Elizabeth Pocahantas Warren, and that annoying gumflapper Elijah Cummings have called on Sessions to resign) will concentrate on the second bolded part — Sessions’s claim that “I did not have communications with the Russians.” It would have been better if he had added “as a member of the Trump campaign” or something like that.
Sessions was just careless! Nothing to see here! Move along!

Separately, The New York Times is reporting that the Obama administration, in its waning days, carefully preserved and distributed evidence of Russian interference in the election and of contacts between Russians and Trump associates, out of fear that the incoming administration might deep-six it.
As Inauguration Day approached, Obama White House officials grew convinced that the intelligence was damning and that they needed to ensure that as many people as possible inside government could see it, even if people without security clearances could not. Some officials began asking specific questions at intelligence briefings, knowing the answers would be archived and could be easily unearthed by investigators — including the Senate Intelligence Committee, which in early January announced an inquiry into Russian efforts to influence the election.

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.
You and I, of course, wonder what the Russians did and what the Trumpers knew about it. But to our friends on the right, the real villain is Obama. Here's the Daily Caller's Chuck Ross:
President Trump’s claims that the Obama administration sought to undermine his presidency received some support on Wednesday from a New York Times report on the Obama White House’s activities in the weeks before the inauguration....

The scheme would seem to lend support to Trump’s claims that the Obama White House sought to undermine his presidency by leaking classified information.
There's a lot going on, and certainly Sessions should recuse himself from any investigation into this matter -- though I agree with Pelosi, Warren, and Cummings that resignation would really be the appropriate step. But what will move this story along? For now, Republicans mostly want to contain it, and I'm not sure the public outrage is there. According to a late-February NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, bare majorities think it's appropriate to investigate ties between Russia and the Trump team (53%) and investigate Russian interference in the election (54%). These numbers are much higher than the numbers opposed, but when you combine the number of people opposed and those who don't have an opinion, you're at nearly 50%. Congressional Republicans will feel comfortable stymieing any real effort to get at the truth as long as that's true, especially given the overwhelming opposition among GOP voters.

What's more, in the same poll 53% of respondents agree with the statement "The news media and other elites are exaggerating the problems with the Trump Administration because they are uncomfortable and threatened with the kind of change that Trump represents," and 51% say the press has been "too critical" of Trump. And only 38% think Trump's relationship with Putin is "too friendly."

And according to a separate NBC/Survey Monkey poll, 50% of Republicans consider Russia an ally -- and that includes a whopping 73% of Republicans aged 18-29.

Republican voters still love Trump. Republican voters don't hate Putin. And Americans as a whole are in favor of getting to the bottom of this, but not overwhelmingly so.

So what will push this issue over the edge. What will have to happen to make Republicans no longer willing to bottle it up?

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