Jeff Sessions: Watergate or Waterloo?

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Trump Maladministration

So I’m back, the malware cleanup is done, and the site is safe to visit. I’ll be back tomorrow with some actual posts.

I didn’t get to watch it, but I take it Jeff Sessions’s testimony today was a lot of chest thumping and bluster without substance.

Josh Marshall:

The big and overriding takeaway from this hearing is that Sessions declined to answer almost all the pertinent questions – in most cases because they involved his discussions with President Trump and in at least one case (or this was what I understood him to be saying) discussions with other leaders at the Department of Justice. There’s an important back and forth about what basis he had for this refusal. That is important in itself. But the gist, as Sessions eventually seemed to concede, was that he was refusing to answer because he did not want to preclude or render moot the President’s ability to assert executive privilege.

But as the President hasn’t asserted executive privilege yet, I’m not sure how that’s supposed to fly.

What did jump out at me across the whole testimony is that Sessions claims he recused himself from the Russia probe simply and only because it involved a presidential campaign of which he could reasonably be viewed as a top advisor. This is almost certainly not true. Sessions recused himself the day after The Washington Post reported two meetings with Ambassador Kislyak which Sessions had failed to disclose at his confirmation hearing. Sessions now claims that that he had made what amounts to an in pectore recusal the day after he was sworn in (little shout out to you canon lawyers out there). So in Sessions’ mind, what we thought was a recusal was just the formal version of what he had done in his head weeks earlier. Again, this seems almost certainly false. Inevitably this elaborate ruse undermines his credibility about all the rest. Comey seemed to have in mind something more than simply a technical reason requiring Sessions to recuse himself.

Big picture: Sessions refused to answer the biggest questions; he was almost certainly not telling the truth about what triggered his refusal. Most of the rest was atmospherics.

Jennifer Rubin:

The contrast with Comey was striking. Sessions, grayer and older, looked nervous and shrunken in his seat, growing defensive at times. He weakly complained to Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) about her questioning. He sharply objected: “I’m not able to be rushed this fast, it makes me nervous.” Indeed, while Comey was relaxed, confident and expansive, Sessions was evasive and skittish. He repeatedly refused to answer questions, not invoking executive privilege but saying it was Justice Department “policy” not to talk about conversations with the president. Democrats repeatedly challenged him, accusing him of “stonewalling.” Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) slammed him: “You are impeding this investigation.” Heinrich told Sessions there’s no “appropriateness” standard that alleviates him from the need to testify under oath fully and completely. Heinrich flat out accused Sessions of “obstructing” the investigation.

Sarah Posner:

Sessions’s recusal — his justification for it, and the scope of how he defines it — is central to the integrity of the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in our election, and possible Trump campaign collusion with it. That’s because Sessions was at the center of advising the Trump campaign on national security issues during the campaign and has failed to be forthcoming about how that role might have blended with his communications with Russian officials throughout. This raises questions as to how impartially he can exercise his role as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer and whether he may still be in a position to influence the Russia probe.

Sessions’s testimony, though, failed to put to rest any doubts Senate investigators, or the public, have about many of the matters relating to his recusal, and whether he is adhering to it. In fact, Sessions only raised new and potentially damaging questions about his actions and cast doubt on his own truthfulness about what the recusal entails.

Charles Pierce:

The people who best treed JeffBo on his most preposterous bullshit—Heinrich, Kamala Harris of California, and The Mustache of Righteousness, Angus King of Maine—could only push him so far. Everybody on that committee knew that what JeffBo was selling was batter-fried nonsense. (Call me an elitist snob if you like, but whenever I hear a Southerner talking about “mah honah,” I reach for William Tecumseh Sherman’s phone number.)

Everybody on that committee knew that, when JeffBo declined to answer questions about whether James Comey was fired because of the Russia probe, he was hiding the plain truth behind a privilege that he’d made up on the spot. Everybody on that committee knew that JeffBo’s memory lapses were at best highly convenient. (He couldn’t remember meeting the Russian ambassador, but he could quote an op-ed by William Barr from almost a year ago? That dog don’t even want to hunt.) Everybody on that committee knew that you can’t refuse to answer a question because the president* might want to invoke executive privilege at some vague point in the future. But if the majority is content to look like an entire bag of tools and pretend otherwise, there’s not much the Senate can do about being obstructed in such a shameless fashion.

Actually, there is one historical precedent for what Sessions asserted that went unmentioned, and that precedent is not promising. Although even it wasn’t as barefaced as it was on Tuesday, the assertion of an illegitimate, unasserted “executive privilege” was, for a long time, central to the defense of John Mitchell, Richard Nixon’s corrupt AG who went to jail behind his crimes relating to Watergate and what Mitchell himself called, “the White House horrors.” It is an argument you make when you know that there is an unacceptable political price to be paid if the president* actually does assert executive privilege in advance—which is what the Obama administration did on several occasions, despite Tom Cotton’s having been deliberately and dishonestly obtuse on the comparison during Tuesday’s hearings.

There’s only a certain amount of sham that our institutions can tolerate. We’re getting very close to it.

 

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8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. c u n d gulag  •  Jun 13, 2017 @10:21 pm

    Glad you’re back, and survived the malware attack.

    Color me unsurpised that that bigoted little infected boil on a rabid weasel’s ass lied, and did everything he could to not answer any questions, but instead, try to sow confusion.
    He is, after all, a Republican.

    The little bigot better think about lawyering-up, because if he does anything to offend t-RUMPLE-thin-sKKKin, he’ll be shaken off quicker than a tick on an soaped-up short-hair mongrel bolting out of the washtub.
    The current AG will sorely need a good attorney.
    Here’s hoping they all laugh at him, leaving him to find an ambulance-chaser willingbto lose his/her first crack at the big time!

  2. Ed  •  Jun 13, 2017 @11:12 pm

    He also said that Trump never talked about the Russian interference during the transition. Why was this not the screaming headline of the day? America faces a number of cyber threats, and this administration has no strategy to counter it, because the president and his attorney general could not even be bothered to read intelligence reports or arrange for briefings on matters pertaining to cyber security! We should be seeing banner headlines like this:

    SESSIONS ADMITS UNDER OATH TO DERELICTION OF DUTY BY POTUS AND HIMSELF

    If any breaches of cyber networks cause any damage whatsoever in the next few years, will people remember this and hold them accountable?

  3. Doug  •  Jun 13, 2017 @11:49 pm

    I didn’t watch the hearings but Rachel Madow had an interesting take on the lack of credibility. First Sessions tried to say Comey lost the confidence of the president – and the testimony of the acting director in sworn testimony was brought up. Sessions tried to say the Clinton emails ‘thing’ was badly handled, but Sessions was/is on record at the time commending Comey’s actions as wholly appropriate. Sessions did a dance when he was pressed to answer if Comey was fired for the reasons Trump said. “Let the president’s words speak for themselves” or rubbish to that effect. But the kicker was the question re Sessions evaluation that Comey was doing a bad job, “Did you ever talk to Comey about his deficiencies?” Answer: No.

    SO, if you perceived the performance as evasive and a cover-up for who-knows-what, how far on the limb do you want to go if you are a Republican in Congress? I’m not saying that the GOP is ready to talk impeachment – yet. But are some of them wondering if they want their picture taken with Trump knowing it could haunt them in the next election? Paul Ryan is defending the investigation – you are increasingly hearing republicans insisting they only want the truth to come out.

    I’ve been watching Gallup daily – Trump is down to 36% approval, statistically tied with his record low. The disapproval is at a record high – 60%. We don’t have far to go for Trump to be at a 2 to 1 ratio of disapproval to approval. The ‘approval’ all comes from the base, and the GOP will be slow to confront the base, but it’s going to be hard to win in Congress if you are too closely tied to the POTUS. So I predict a slow shuffle of congress-critters distancing themselves from an egomaniac who demands loyalty.

    Related is the unbroken string of losses in the federal courts. Trump may imagine that the USSC will side with him – I think they want, and I think Roberts will lead the charge and explain the rule of law to the POTUS.

    I forget who the pundit was who remembers sitting through ‘Caligula’ – and observed it didn’t turn out well.

  4. Swami  •  Jun 14, 2017 @12:04 am

    He was lying and evasive. Hopefully he’ll get his ass pinned down.

  5. csm  •  Jun 14, 2017 @9:01 am
  6. c u n d gulag  •  Jun 14, 2017 @10:24 am

    RIfle shots at a GOP baseball practice.
    Congressman Scalise hit in hip, is stable, but is in surgery.
    And aid to another Congressman was hit, as were a couple of police officers.

    That’s the information just out, so I can’t verify its truth.
    Oh, and a meeting on gun legislation has been postponed. Irony?

    Let’s hope it’s some “lone wolf,” and it’s not a politically motivated shooting.
    Otherwise, could be the Reichstag moment t-RUMPLE-thin-sKKKin might be looking for to take attention away from Russians, and the GOP’s turning back the clock to the late 19th Century.

  7. Ed  •  Jun 14, 2017 @10:54 am

    c u n d gulag– As of 10:50 EDT, Trump has not tweeted anything about it being politically motivated. He probably has received info as to the shooter’s identity, and if it were a convenient political enemy, I would expect him to have tweeted same by now. But I cannot be sure about that.

    When will Alex Jones call it a false flag operation?

  8. LongHairedWeirdo  •  Jun 14, 2017 @12:59 pm

    On interesting bit I saw: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2017/04/20/trump-owns-250m-condos-and-you-could-buy-one/100566302/. This is such a clear danger of violations of the emoluments clause that I feel comfortable in stating, for the record, that all Republicans whining about the Constitution has been proven meaningless.

    Oh, and, ‘gulag? Weasels are cute animals. How about a rabid, mustelaphilic, warthog’s ass?



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