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05/03/2017 | Dazed and recused - Donald Trump’s latest Russia scandal

The Economist Staff

Jeff Sessions met the Russian ambassador, then said he hadn’t

 

DURING his Senate confirmation grilling on January 10th , Senator Jeff Sessions was asked about reports that Donald Trump’s campaign team, of which he was a leading member, had been in touch with Russian officials. “I’m not aware of any of those activities,” said the soon-to-be-confirmed attorney-general. “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.”

On March 2nd it was revealed by the Washington Post that Mr Sessions had twice met with Russia’s ambassador to Washington, DC, Sergey Kislyak, during the campaign. The most recent meeting took place in the senator’s private office on September 8th—at the height of the effort by Russian hackers to swing the election for Mr Trump.

Even by the scandal-prone standards that Mr Trump’s month-old administration is setting, this is shocking. Mr Sessions was confirmed, despite longstanding allegations that he is a racist, by trading on his reputation as a tough but principled politician. It now seems possible, hot on the heels of Mike Flynn’s sacking as national security adviser, that he could become the second senior member of Mr Trump’s government to lose his job over secret chats with Mr Kislyak in less than a month.

In a sign that Mr Sessions was in trouble, several Republican congressmen promptly urged him to recuse himself from any of the several investigations by his department into Russia’s role in the election. They included Jason Chaffetz and Kevin McCarthy in the House of Representatives and, in the Senate, Rob Portman of Ohio, who is emerging as a rare exemplar of measured opposition to Mr Trump. Mr Sessions, he said, “is a former colleague and a friend, but I think it would be best for him and for the country to recuse himself” from the relevant probes.

Mr Trump was having none of that. Asked on March 2nd whether he stood behind Mr Sessions, whose strong antipathy to illegal immigration made him an early passenger on the Trump train, the president said he had “total” confidence in him. He also said Mr Sessions had “probably” told the truth in his Senate confirmation hearing and should not recuse himself from any investigation.

A couple of hours later, at a press conference called to address the scandal, Mr Sessions said he had recused himself from any investigation touching on Mr Trump’s electoral campaign—which would include his department’s probes into what the Russians were up to. Asked why he had done so when his boss said he shouldn’t, Mr Sessions looked momentarily flustered. His effort to deny that he had done anything wrong in misleading his fellow senators was also unconvincing.

Mr Sessions said he had not misled them wittingly because his conversations with Mr Kislyak had not been about the campaign. “I don’t recall any specific political discussions” with the Russian ambassador, he said. Rather, he claimed, the meeting in his office had been a natural part of his work on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

But if that were true, why didn’t he say so at the time? His failure to do so would look fishy even if there were not a pattern of contacts between Mr Kislyak and the Trump team; it turns out that Mr Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, also met the ambassador. Mr Sessions’s Democratic colleagues have meanwhile rejected his claim that the meeting in his Senate office was on committee business. “I’ve been on the armed service comm for 10 years. No call or meeting w/Russian ambassador. Ever. Ambassadors call members of Foreign Rel Com [Foreign Relations Committee],” tweeted Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri.

It is easy to imagine Mr Sessions as an unwitting player in whatever design the Russians had for Mr Trump. The attorney-general is a controversial figure, but not a traitor. He will probably also keep his job. But the kerfuffle is nonetheless significant, in a couple of ways.

First, it has chipped away at Republican congressmen’s dogged reluctance to investigate Mr Trump’s ties with the Russians. The Republicans will still resist launching the independent investigation Democrats have called for—a bipartisan tool, incidentally, that Mr Sessions was a big fan of under Democratic presidents. But they will now be harder pushed to resist meaningful congressional probes of the issue by, for example, the House and Senate intelligence committees.

Second, the episode has made Mr Trump’s administration look hapless again—less than 24 hours after the president won plaudits for his unexpectedly conciliatory address to Congress. What was Mr Sessions, a veteran of 20 years in the Senate, thinking? How on earth did he expect to get away with such a flagrant and easily proved mistruth?

Al Franken, the Democratic senator from Minnesota to whom Mr Sessions was responding during his confirmation hearing, sounded nonplussed. Mr Sessions, he said, had chosen “to say that he had not met with the Russians…and, of course, the ambassador from Russia is a Russian”.

The Economist (Reino Unido)

 



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16/09/2009|
16/09/2009|
16/09/2009|
08/09/2009|
07/09/2009|
06/09/2009|
06/09/2009|
05/09/2009|
05/09/2009|
26/08/2009|
21/08/2009|
19/08/2009|
19/08/2009|
15/08/2009|
15/08/2009|
15/08/2009|
11/08/2009|
11/08/2009|
11/08/2009|
11/08/2009|
19/07/2009|
19/07/2009|
18/07/2009|
18/07/2009|
27/03/2009|
22/03/2009|
22/03/2009|
27/01/2009|
27/01/2009|
27/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
11/01/2009|
06/12/2008|
06/12/2008|
06/12/2008|
06/12/2008|
23/11/2008|
23/11/2008|
16/11/2008|
16/11/2008|
04/11/2008|
04/11/2008|
03/11/2008|
03/11/2008|
24/10/2008|
24/10/2008|
24/10/2008|
24/10/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
06/09/2008|
06/09/2008|
05/09/2008|
05/09/2008|
05/09/2008|
05/09/2008|
01/09/2008|
01/09/2008|
01/09/2008|
01/09/2008|
22/08/2008|
22/08/2008|
17/08/2008|
17/08/2008|
16/08/2008|
16/08/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
19/07/2008|
19/07/2008|
24/05/2008|
24/05/2008|
03/05/2008|
03/05/2008|
29/04/2008|
11/02/2008|
05/01/2008|
09/12/2007|
18/11/2007|
10/11/2007|
10/11/2007|
06/11/2007|
06/11/2007|
06/09/2007|
26/08/2007|
25/08/2007|
11/07/2007|
16/06/2007|
16/06/2007|
10/06/2007|
10/06/2007|
19/05/2007|
19/05/2007|
19/05/2007|
19/05/2007|
24/04/2007|
24/04/2007|
14/04/2007|
14/04/2007|
05/04/2007|
05/04/2007|
05/04/2007|
28/02/2007|
28/02/2007|
05/02/2007|
05/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
29/01/2007|
29/01/2007|
29/01/2007|
29/01/2007|
11/01/2007|
11/01/2007|
11/01/2007|
11/01/2007|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
20/12/2006|
20/12/2006|
17/11/2006|
30/09/2006|
28/07/2006|
12/04/2006|
12/04/2006|
12/04/2006|
06/03/2006|
21/02/2006|
17/02/2006|
31/01/2006|
10/01/2006|
28/12/2005|
31/10/2005|
26/09/2005|
29/08/2005|
11/08/2005|
08/08/2005|
24/06/2005|
24/06/2005|
24/06/2005|
03/04/2005|
03/04/2005|
03/04/2005|
03/04/2005|

ver + notas
 
Center for the Study of the Presidency
Freedom House