To bring you up to date—from the Times yesterday:
“…[N]ew questions were raised about Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s ties to the Russians. According to a former senior American official, he met with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, twice in the past year. The details of the meetings were not clear, but the contact appeared to contradict testimony Mr. Sessions provided Congress during his confirmation hearing in January when he said he “did not have communications with the Russians.”
“I have no idea what this allegation is about,” he said. “It is false.”
Sean Spicer, the Trump White House spokesman, said, “The only new piece of information that has come to light is that political appointees in the Obama administration have sought to create a false narrative to make an excuse for their own defeat in the election.” He added, “There continues to be no there, there.”
…On Wednesday, a Justice Department official confirmed that Mr. Sessions had two conversations with Ambassador Kislyak last year, when he was still a senator, despite testifying at his Jan. 10 confirmation hearing that he had no contact with the Russians. At that hearing, Mr. Sessions was asked what he would do if it turned out to be true that anyone affiliated with the Trump team had communicated with the Russian government in the course of the campaign. He said he was “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, and I’m unable to comment on it,” Mr. Sessions said at the time.
However, Justice officials acknowledged that Mr. Sessions had spoken with Mr. Kislyak twice: once, among a group of ambassadors who approached him at a Heritage Foundation event during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July and, separately, in an office meeting on Sept. 8. The contacts were first reported by The Washington Post.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, facing a storm of criticism over newly disclosed contacts with the Russian ambassador to the United States, recused himself on Thursday from any investigation into charges that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election…Many top Democrats demanded Mr. Sessions’s resignation, and a growing number of Republicans declared that he should not take part in any investigation into the case, given his own still largely unexplained role in it.
But Mr. Trump stoutly defended Mr. Sessions, one of his few early champions on Capitol Hill. “He could have stated his response more accurately, but it was clearly not intentional,” he said in a statement, which accused Democrats of engaging in “a total witch hunt.”
…Mr. Sessions insisted there was nothing nefarious about his two meetings with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, even though he did not disclose them to the Senate during his confirmation hearing and they occurred during the heat of the race between Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, and Mr. Trump, whom Mr. Sessions was advising on national security….
In his account on Thursday of the more substantive meeting, which took place in his Senate office on Sept. 8, Mr. Sessions described Mr. Kislyak as one of a parade of envoys who seek out lawmakers like him to glean information about American policies and promote the agendas of their governments.
“Somehow, the subject of Ukraine came up,” Mr. Sessions said, recalling that the meeting grew testy after the ambassador defended Russia’s conduct toward its neighbor and heaped blame on everybody else. “I thought he was pretty much of an old-style, Soviet-type ambassador,” Mr. Sessions said, noting that he declined a lunch invitation from Mr. Kislyak.
Mr. Sessions’s decision to recuse himself was one of his first public acts as attorney general. He said he made the decision after consulting with Justice Department officials, and he denied misleading Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, when he said in his confirmation hearing that he had not met with Russian officials about the Trump campaign.
“In retrospect,” Mr. Sessions told reporters, “I should have slowed down and said, ‘But I did meet one Russian official a couple of times, and that would be the ambassador.’ ”
1. All we can do is use the information we have. I believed and continue to believe that the whole “Trump conspired with the Russians to steal the election'” conspiracy theory is unwarranted and part of the ongoing effort by Democrats to undermine the election because they lost it, which is in its own way more despicable than anything the Russians did.
After all, Russia has no obligation to do what is in the best interests of the U.S. and its citizens.
2. Charles Krauthammer said yesterday that this was “a cover-up in search of a crime.” Well said. It is not against the law for any American citizen to meet with or speak with a foreign ambassador. Democrats, as part of their anti-Trump derangement, want us to assume that if anyone remotely connected to the President or the Trump campaign met with any Russian official, including the ambassador, that means that they established “ties” to Russia, and by extension Putin, and that these “ties” were inherently nefarious, even in the absence of any evidence at all that they were. No fair, unbiased, rational observer can think this mindset is anything but unjust and unhinged.
3. When I was sent by U.S. AID to Mongolia to assist with the legal system’s effort to develop a legal ethics system, I had dinner with the British ambassador. I attended a party at his house. I had lunch with him twice. We spoke of many things: of seas and ships and sealing wax, cricket, baseball, U.S. culture, a mutual friend, Mongolian food, and more. Do I have ties to Great Britain now? Does the D.C. Bar, and the Massachusetts Bar, both of whom employ me, have ties to the U.K., and by extension, Queen Elizabeth?
4. Sessions, says the Times, was asked what he would do if it turned out to be true that anyone affiliated with the Trump team had communicated with the Russian government in the course of the campaign. His answer, “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, and I’m unable to comment on it” appears to be intended to convey that he did not speak with any Russians in connection with his unofficial role in the Trump campaign, which was essentially as a Senator who supported the candidate. Could it be deceitful? Yes. Was he intending to deceive? It is impossible to tell. Because it is impossible to tell, it is not perjury. Democrats who are saying that are being so hypocritical, my hypocrisy meter just blew up. They went through an entire campaign in which statements by their candidates and her surrogates walked a truth tightrope a lot slimmer than that on a daily basis.
5. I was at the house of a friend yesterday where a manufactured sign reading “Sessions Resign” was already on display. The Democrats want to get Sessions, as part of their effort to get Trump, and are so eager about it that they are embarrassingly outrunning reality. Is there any reason to think Sessions, acting in his capacity as U.S. Senator, met with the Russian ambassador for nefarious purposes? The first meeting was with other people around him at a public event; the second was in his Senate office, an unlikely place for treasonous plotting. Sessions’ long career in law and public service contains no episodes that fairly suggest that his integrity, patriotism and honesty should be questioned—oh, I guess the fact that he is working with the elected President proves that he is inherently untrustworthy, correct?
Aside from that, then.
6. Some have raised a comparison between Loretta Lynch’s improper meeting with Bill Clinton while the FBI investigation of Hillary was still underway, and the Sessions meeting with the Russian ambassador. On that occasion, Senator Chuck Schumer said that Lynch’s statement that she didn’t discuss the case with the ex-President was sufficient to clear her of suspicion, and that there was no reason to assume she was lying. Regarding Sessions, however, Schumer said,
“There cannot be even a scintilla of doubt about the impartiality and fairness of the attorney general, the top law enforcement official of the land. It’s clear Attorney General Sessions does not meet that test. Because the Department of Justice should be above reproach, for the good of the country, Attorney General Sessions should resign.”
That’s an outrageous double standard. First of all, the “scintilla” standard is impossible. Eric Holder was screamingly partisan, undeniably biased. Most recent U.S Attorney Generals have been. Even for those who weren’t—I can think of one at the moment—all it takes to create a “scintilla” are some slanted news stories and partisan conspiracy theories, like this one. Moreover, the Lynch-Clinton meeting was per se a breach of ethics, as I explained at the time. It created a real., immediate appearance of impropriety, and, in fact, had a real impact on the way the investigation was handled. A U.S. Senator, however, meeting with an ambassador, does not create such an appearance, and is not improper. Sessions says the campaign wasn’t discussed, just as Lynch said that the investigation wasn’t discussed. Schumer said that Lynch must be believed, but indicates that Sessions shouldn’t be.
His handling of the two episodes cannot be reconciled, except to conclude that Schumer is a shameless partisan hack.
Since Lynch’s conduct was far more troubling than what Sessions did, and her recusal from the matter involved was deemed sufficient by both Democrats and Republicans, Sessions’ refusal must be treated similarly.
7. Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill took to Twitter on Thursday to attack Jeff Sessions, and wrote,
“I’ve been on the Armed Services Committee for 10 years. No call or meeting with Russian ambassador. Ever. Ambassadors call members of Foreign Relations Committee.”
Oops.Then these surfaced:
Senator McCaskill was a far more active surrogate for Hillary Clinton than Sessions was for Donald Trump. Wait—is Hillary linked to Putin now? Was the Clinton campaign plotting to have the Russians “hack the election”? Will the upcoming investigation include McCaskill? Was she lying? Her denial was much more unequivocal than that of Sessions. What was she hiding?
Best—timed— hypocrisy— ever.
8. Make no mistake, however: Sessions mishandled the episode spectacularly. He knows that the he has to be “Caesar’s wife”; he knows that he is a marked man; he knows that the Russia conspiracy is the current choice by the Trump “resistance” to bring down his presidency before it even begins. What a stupid, stupid way to answer the question at his hearing, using Clintonian parsing. The President would be justified in firing him, except that Trump has a valid and competing interest in not allowing Democrats to pick off his team. It is really a lose-lose situation.
Helluva job, Jeffie!
9. Ann Althouse, whose analysis regarding Sessions’ conduct comports with my own (“There is no there there”) , writes,
Do the Democrats see their only hope as getting an investigation going and somehow reliving Watergate? It’s so sad, and so negative. So backward-looking and devoid of promise. But perhaps that is all they’ve got.And then there’s the media. The NYT and the Washington Post have a motivation to ally with the Democratic Party in its last-ditch effort to Watergatize Trump after Trump’s endless criticisms of them. And this anti-Trump approach may get them a spike in readership, even as it repels some readers like me.
I’m missing the sense that I’m getting the normal news. It seems unfair and shoddy not to cover the President the way you’d cover any President. What looks like an effort to stigmatize Trump as not normal has — to my eyes — made the media abnormal.
I know some journalists argued that the normal approach shouldn’t apply to covering Trump, because Trump not normal, but that’s not my idea of professionalism. Even if they were to regard professionalism in those terms — if the object of the news goes low, journalism should go low — they’s still be on the hook to continually maintain the perception that their antagonist really is low, and if they use their pages to strain to portray him as low to justify their continual debased presentation of the news, they’re self-dealing and double counting.
The more seemingly normal Trump becomes — as with his speech to Congress the other day — the more the anti-Trump approach of the news media feels like a hackish alliance with the Democratic Party in its sad, negative, backward-looking effort to disrupt the President the people elected.