Jeff Sessions’ Narrow Recusal

Update: I was on Democracy Now on these issues today. Here’s the link.

As you know, after having two meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that he did not reveal in response to specific questions posed as part of his confirmation process exposed, Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused from any investigation into the elections.

Contrary to much reporting on the recusal, it was nowhere near a complete recusal from matters pertaining to Trump’s administration and its’ ties to Russia. Here’s what Sessions said in his statement:

During the course of the confirmation proceedings on my nomination to be Attorney General, I advised the Senate Judiciary Committee that ‘[i]f a specific matter arose where I believed my impartiality might reasonably be questioned, I would consult with Department ethics officials regarding the most appropriate way to proceed.

During the course of the last several weeks, I have met with the relevant senior career Department officials to discuss whether I should recuse myself from any matters arising from the campaigns for President of the United States.

Having concluded those meetings today, I have decided to recuse myself from any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States.

I have taken no actions regarding any such matters, to the extent they exist.

This announcement should not be interpreted as confirmation of the existence of any investigation or suggestive of the scope of any such investigation.

Consistent with the succession order for the Department of Justice, Acting Deputy Attorney General and U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Dana Boente shall act as and perform the functions of the Attorney General with respect to any matters from which I have recused myself to the extent they exist.

As I emphasized, the only thing he is recusing from is “existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States.”

There are two areas of concern regarding Trump’s ties that would not definitively be included in this recusal: Trump’s long-term ties to mobbed up businessmen with ties to Russia (a matter not known to be under investigation but which could raise concerns about compromise of Trump going forward), and discussions about policy that may involve quid pro quos (such as the unproven allegation, made in the Trump dossier, that Carter Page might take 19% in Rosneft in exchange for ending sanctions against Russia), that didn’t involve a pay-off in terms of the hacking. There are further allegations of Trump involvement in the hacking (a weak one against Paul Manafort and a much stronger one against Michael Cohen, both in the dossier), but that’s in no way the only concern raised about Trump’s ties with Russians.

The concern about the scope of Sessions’ recusal is underscored by the way in which he narrowly addressed his lies to the Senate. Here is his answer to Al Franken, which was a question about campaign surrogates, but did not ask about communications about the campaign.

FRANKEN: CNN has just published a story and I’m telling you this about a news story that’s just been published. I’m not expecting you to know whether or not it’s true or not. But CNN just published a story alleging that the intelligence community provided documents to the president-elect last week that included information that quote, “Russian operatives claimed to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump.” These documents also allegedly say quote, “There was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump’s surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government.”

Now, again, I’m telling you this as it’s coming out, so you know. But if it’s true, it’s obviously extremely serious and 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 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.

His press conference and a (surprisingly good) interview with Tucker Carlson underscores that he is just addressing questions about the election, not conversations with Russians generally (conversations that might address those other two concerns, especially that of influencing policy on things like Ukraine). In the interview, Sessions denied having conversations with Russians “on a continuing basis to advance any kind of campaign agenda” and said “I never had any conversations with the Russians about the campaign.”

By Sessions’ own admission, the conversation with Kislyak concerned Ukraine; he said Kislyak was pushing back on what the Ukrainian Ambassador had said just the day before, though Sessions claims he himself pushed back as well.

That’s important because they key policy issue on which there have been concerns about undue influence is Ukraine.

It is not illegal to have meetings with an Ambassador, where the Ambassador makes a case for policies his country supports — precisely what appears to have gone on in the meeting Sessions did not disclose. But the (thus far unproven) allegations involving other Trump officials go beyond that, without necessarily pertaining to the election. That’s why Sessions’ recusal is far too narrow to be meaningful.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

23 replies
  1. tryggth says:

    I’ld add possible other RU areas of interest, wrt quid pro quo, are: NATO support, sanctions removal (which might be part of the continuing Rosneft murkiness) and non-support of counter-measures re EU elections.

    • emptywheel says:

      Agree, though I consider sanctions relief to be Ukraine related (though realize there’s an earlier set, so thanks for the reminder).

  2. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Now that he and his and White House staffs have had time to think about it, Sessions has left himself plenty of wriggle room.  As you say, the holes in his recusal statement are especially important, given that Trump refuses to disclose his tax returns.  These would disclose information concerning his holdings, where and how they are organized, and how nominally profitable they are, as well information on his income (for tax accounting purposes, not for cash or financial purposes). 

    As important, Trump has refused to credibly divest his assets as a minimum price for his public employment running the most powerful state on the planet.  Putting his assets under the formal management of a close relative, rather than in a blind trust run by managers unrelated to him, does not qualify as divestment.  Rather, it’s a slap at the idea of avoiding conflicts of interest and an indicator that Trump plans to profit – directly and/or through others (a signature behavior for Trump) from his public employment while engaged in it.  (His post-employment book deal is unlikely to top the Obamas’, unless he contracts with a very good ghost and becomes an unlikely convert to openness and transparency.)

  3. Ron says:

    Fanken essentially asked IF TRUE, what will you DO? Sessions essentially said I DIDN’T do it. Don’t look at me.

    Later Sessions said he couldn’t remember the conversations with Kislyak. Although, he did remember the small talk.

    Former Foreign Minister of Russia, Andrei Kozyrev, was just on Andrea Mitchell Reports saying that he was surprised that Sessions had not taken the opportunity to tell the ambassador to stop interfering in our election. He said all those in the campaign who met with Kislyak should have told him that even before they shook his hand.

    Instead they either lied about meeting him or forgot (or lied about forgetting).

  4. Bea says:

    I listened to your interview with Amy this morning and had to wince at your description of an ambassador wandering around asking for favors.  Clearly, if you’re going to toss out comments about ambassadorial duties, you might want to read up on diplomacy.  When an ambassador wants to approach host government for favors, there is a diplomatic process that is NEVER violated except perhaps in extreme crisis.  Diplomatic notes are exchanged. Said ambassador then engages in a demarche on host government to ask for said favor once his requested visit is accepted.  Nothing, but nothing gets done without rigid protocol, including asking the recipient to please not spit bubblegum on the steps of the said embassy or fornmin.  The assumption that this ambassador was wandering around asking for favors for Russia in a formal capacity is never to impossible.  The fact that he may have sneaked into Trump Towers to threaten or ask for favors is another matter.

  5. Jg says:

    Empty wheel – what is your take on comey’s refusal to talk about whole topics / aspects of evidence to nunes’ committee?

    • Jg says:

      A) it just seems like Comey’s behaviour could most simply be described as the action of someone  who is convinced that there is a possibility they will indict. Perhaps an indictment would precede a conclusion to the committee investigations?

      Are you hearing anything about indictable acts in the FBI and CIA camps?

      B) are the rumoured Russian investors  in trump projects also on the sanctions list?  Or are they  Associates of those on the list?

      C) in Putin’s Kleptocracy, a great book, there is a section describing the Russian mobs connections  to St Petersburg politicians when putin’s career was in early stage. One of the corrupt and mobbed up politicians was said to have a son who is now a leading member of the Russian cyber crime world. Is there any reason to believe that one of the people who putin has indicted, possibly because they were double agents,  is related to st Petersburg crime? I guess what I am saying is, do you know if mikhalyov is linked to the st Petersburg mafia?

      If I recall correctly (I just don’t have the time to re read) one of the real estate scams that sobchak and putin ran was to sell prime real estate in St Petersburg, near the Neva, for a song and to take kickbacks. There were Ukrainians mentioned here I think and the implication I recall was that they could have assisted the Russian public servants with cover for getting the money out of the country. I wonder if there are connections between that corrupt phase of St Petersburg post communism and cohen’s wife and Trump, who apparently looked at condo development in that city.

      There is so much lack of clarity in what the CIA would be looking at now that I am just left connecting dots. It could take years for the investigation to wind its way through a maze of shell companies tracing money.  On the other hand, maybe the research into actually applying sanctions and the info that the IRS has on trump can be quickly cross referenced to find connections.  For all the leaks, no connections at this level are eevident, that unknown of. All this fascinating suspenseful Schadenfreude is killing me.

      Obviously sessions narrow recusal leaves a line of communication between doj and trump open so that any indictment would come accross  his desk. Or comey wants to clear him from that desk before he talks to a committee at all.

      I confess to being a bit frustrated by all the reporting on leaks while there isn’t that mmuch written considering which lines of investigation first presented themselves – in mean what exactly were the leads first pursued?

      can you shed any light ?

      Your blog Is fantastic.

  6. dc says:

    July 21, 2016 was the wikileaks dump of the DNC hack. What is the evidence that this is not a gift for executing the GOP platform changes that were formalized by the convention?

  7. Avattoir says:

    As a practical matter, IMO it’s less of a “narrow” recusal than one with no definite or enforceable parameters to provide a standard to hold him to, a situation exacerbated first by there being no mechanism in the short run to maintain even a clearly articulated standard, second by his boss being unprincipled beyond the latter’s self interest, third by a controlling majority in Congress that appears unlikely to form a meaningful consensus contrary to anything he – either he – decides, and an inspector general who, even he were moved to criticize whatever decision, serves purely as advisory to a Congress and president neither of whom will accept it.

    This could well be ‘worse that Watergate’, as Iran-Contra was worse, as was selling invasion of Iraq; but without a mechanism to enforce that judgment, this one will be utterly meaningless. I’m sticking with non-recusal recusal.

  8. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The rigidity of diplomatic protocol is overrated. Much of it is theater, designed variously a) to signal intent or desire, b) to acknowledge standard positions, which may or may not constitute real demands, c) to indicate the seriousness of an issue by how narrow (not serious) or extended (serious) a segment of the bureaucratic-political machinery expresses an interest in an issue. A position expressed only at the top or bottom is usually not serious. A position consistently expressed from low to high levels is usually a high priority. A great deal of influence is exercised informally. Formal acts are often reserved for theater or to acknowledge an agreed outcome or that one will not be reached.

    Trump can be relied upon to throw a wrench into the gears of diplomacy, as he will into all other aspects of government. For him and his courtiers, government is something to be manipulated in a quest to achieve a private, personal end. It is not meant to work except in aid of such ends.

  9. joejoejoe says:

    The oldest Russian neighborhoods in New York are the exact neighborhoods where Fred Trump gave Donald Trump his start in real estate. I wonder when a Soviet/Russian file first got opened on Trump? Russians aren’t skulking around in Sheepshead Bay and Brighton Beach like in a spy movie. They’ve been openly running things for 40 years with criminal activity all over Brooklyn.

  10. JOHN MAYOR says:

    Earlier this month, a U.S. Official stated that a months-long inquiry into alleged contacts between Russian Government Officials and associates of Trump’s campaign and business interests was continuing DESPITE THE “FIRING” OF NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER MICHAEL FLYNN (though, other evidence supports a Michael Flynn “Resignation”!), for “misleading” White House Officials about his communication with Russia (see, Kevin Johnson’s USA TODAY Report, of Thursday, February 23rd, 2017)!
    .
    The White House confirmed Thursday, February 23rd, 2017, that a conversation between Reinhold Richard “Reince” Priebus, Trump’s White House “Lead” of Staff (whom I’ve dubbed, “Prince Priebus”!) and FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, occurred on Wednesday, February 15, 2017, at which “Corporate Media Interests” have reported that “Prince Priebus” attempted to convince McCabe to refute claims of a connection between Russia, Flynn, and Trump (and thereby… folks!… removing any further– and I’ll suggest, LEGITIMATE!– HEAT, on Trump’s past “COLLUSIVE ARRANGEMENTS” with Putin/ Russia!… and, on his current “Presidency”!)! And further, an unnamed White House Official is also reported to have stated, that other Intelligence Agencies were contacted in an effort to SHUT DOWN “claims” of a Russian/ Putin Flynn/ Trump link!
    .
    And now, we have a Trump appointed U.S. Attorney General who believes “Recusing” himself is a “SUFFICIENT RECOURSE” for actions he took, involving the very same allegations that led to the firing/ resignation of the outgoing N-A-T-I-O-N-A-L S-E-C-U-R-I-T-Y A-D-V-I-S-O-R! Folks!… What’s wrong with this picture? YEA!… What’s wrong with this animation?
    _______________
    .
    Oh Trumpeter against “Faux News”!… me thinks thou protesteth too mucheth! And!… as the reason for your recent solo White House buffoonish “Faux News protestation” revolves around the “Faux Media’s” recent “Russian COLLUSION REVELATIONS” involving Michael Flynn (and, which sparked Flynn’s “Firing”/ “Resignation”!), I thought it appropriate to offer up what you– OBVIOUSLY!– don’t want others to know about…
    .
    .
    Inasmuch as FORMER National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was “Fired”/ “Resigned” after media PROOFS emerged of his COLLUSIVE COMMUNICATIONS with Russian Officials DURING this just past U.S. Federal Election (the which… and along with Jeff Sessions “recusing”!… you are now FEIGNING INDIGNATION!)!… or Flynn could have– and can presently!– legally challenge this “TORTIOUS LEAK”!… this NOW PROVES that the claims of YOUR INVOLVEMENT in COLLUDING WITH RUSSIA/ PUTIN TO UNDERMINE HILLARY CLINTON (AND, THE DNC!), A-R-E R-E-A-L (as YOU… OBVIOUSLY!… had close ties with Flynn– and knew what Flynn was up to!)! And so, this then makes YOU, Trumpeter, a TRAITOR (as TECHNICALLY REVEALED in, “So what are we supposed to do now?”, by Keith Olbermann!)! And so!… FINALLY!… we can now arrest your sorry *ss! Unless!… and of course!… YOU, “Prince Priebus”, and Flynn, and Jeff Sessions can PROVE that the information released on your now former National Security Adviser is “FAKE NEWS”!… and, on other grounds, is T-O-R-T-I-O-U-S!
    .
    In other words!… FAUX NEWS WHINER!… get your BIG MOUTH into a Civil Courtroom, and put your FAUX NEWS ALLEGATIONS DOLLARS where your “BLOWHOLE” is!
    .
    And folks!… failing to arrest Trump on grounds of RUSSIAN COLLUSION, places the ENTIRE American Intelligence machinery under suspicion of either UTTER INCOMPETENCE, or TRAITOROUS INDIFFERENCE to the safety and security of the American people!… AND!… to the safety and security of the GLOBAL COMMUNITY! And moreover!… if Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster is unwilling– OR UNABLE!– to place as P-A-R-A-M-O-U-N-T the evidence linking Flynn (let alone, Jess Sessions!) and Trump to TRAITOROUS COLLUSION with Putin and with Russia, then McMaster needn’t bother unpacking!… and, he should seek out his political pipedreams and political fortune somewhere else! And the same applies to the new Director for the FBI!
    .
    And thus, and so!… the FURTHER recent sociopsychopathic circumlocutory obfuscation emanating from the lips of “Prince Priebus” AND Rep. Devin NUNSENSE, Chairreignor of the House “Intelligence Committee”, is M-O-S-T G-A-L-L-I-N-G!
    .
    And the latter’s “AUTHORITATIVE INTIMATION” smacks of the same BULLSH*T EXCUSES offered up by critics of Julian Assange, afterupon Assange’s revelation that innocent citizens were killed in U.S. Military efforts to capture the “bad guys”! Rather than admit to the TRAITOROUS ACTIONS of Michael Flynn… and thereby, Donald Trump!… NUNSENSE would prefer to CLOAK these actions under the “slight-of-hand” of FAKE NEWS, and CRIMINAL SPYING against Michael Flynn and POTUS! And… of course!… backed up by the PSYCHOBABBLE of both “Prince Priebus”, and POTUS! And, in the same manner that sundry have attempted to CLOAK the MURDEROUS ACTIONS of sundry members of the U.S. Military during the outset of Assange’s famous WikiLeak of AMERICAN MILITARY MURDERS! And it remains to be seen whether a Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster will be following in the same footsteps as those of Rep. Devin NUNSENSE, “Prince Priebus”, and Trump!… or, whether he will AWAKEN TO THE REALIZATION that his WOULD-BE boss is “forensically predisposed”, a cad, and, is deserving of JAIL TIME!
    .
    The involvement of Devin NUNSENSE and “Prince Priebus” notwithstanding, we’ll soon learn of the full nature of Flynn’s communications!… and, of the “POTUS TRUMPETER’s” complicity!… with, or without the assistance of Trump’s new PET Security Advisor! The TRUTH W-I-L-L “win out”!
    .
    And!… Flynn didn’t “resign” over N-O-T-H-I-N-G! If it was N-O-T-H-I-N-G, he would have had the sense to “do battle”! But!… because the “INTRApersonal heat”– at least!– was on, he decided to “cut and run”! And which brings to mind the words within Proverbs 28: 1… and which reads:… “The wicked flee though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.” [NIV] (And!… can we ask:… “Where are you headed… Sessions?”)
    .
    And so… Why did Michael Flynn flee?… Why was he unsettled by mere “FAKE NEWS”? Well!… the answer rests– in part!– between his ears!… within his CONSCIENCE! And simply put, he didn’t like what he had allowed (and thus, sought to end the “INTERNAL CONFLICT”!)!… and/ or!… he was so overwhelmed by the Media PROOFS offered up, that he had BUT ONE CHOICE to mitigate/ to end the STEADFAST PRESSURE of Media, and public scrutiny! (And, once again, can we ask:… “Where are you headed… Sessions?”)
    .
    And!… please note!… for Michael Flynn to be “Officially FIRED”, Trump would have to have had LEGITIMATE PROOFS that Michael Flynn had– VIRTUALLY!– COMPROMISED NATIONAL SECURITY, in Flynn’s dealings with sundry Russian interests!… or, Flynn could have legally challenged his “firing”, as ILLEGITIMATE! And thus, and so, this begs the question:… Why would Trump have “FIRED” his NSA, if– in Trump’s view!– the “leaked info” on Michael Flynn, was BUT MERE, “FAUX NEWS”?
    .
    As I’ve indicated above, Michael had– and has!– every opportunity to challenge any TORTIOUS IMPUGNING of his character (and ditto, for the POTUS TRUMPETER, and Jeff Sessions!)!… of his “defense” of his past dealings with Russia, and with Hillary’s campaign and the DNC! But since he has chosen to reject challenging any “TORTIOUS MEDIA ASCRIPTION”/ “Media claims” re his past dealings with Russia, and with Hillary’s campaign and the DNC!… and thereby, has rejected standing up for his “vision” of a “SECURE AMERICA”!… we can be safe in assuming, that he was– and is!– WRONG for the job of SECURITY ADVISOR! And ditto, for the selection of Jeff Sessions as U.S. AG! And with that rejection, he has cast a BLACK CLOUD on his WOULD-BE boss!… and on the role his WOULD-BE boss has played, in the matters now under CONSCIONABLE INVESTIGATION elsewhere! And hence the reason, for the recent quickly mounted solo White House Press Office “MAGIC SHOW”, T-O D-U-P-E T-H-E D-U-P-A-B-L-E, re the “REAL REASONS” why Michael Flynn was “Fired”/ obliged to “Resign”! And!… and of course!… in publicly “defending Flynn”, Trump– IN FACT!– was attempting to stave off any IMMEDIATE MEDIA FOLLOW UP, re a Putin/ Russian link to himself!
    .
    The more “BLUFFEROUS” the bluff… and the quicker the bluff!… the less the public will notice that their “political pockets”, and minds, have been “groped”!
    .
    Nevertheless!… most Americans– I suggest!– have seen (or at least, have heard about!) the Wizard of Oz!… and, are– somehow!– familiar with the FAKE WIZARD behind the curtain! And despite the thunder, the lightening, and the smoke, Americans are just not buying what Trump is selling!… AND, ARE CONVERGING (AS I TYPE THIS!) ON HIS “MENTAL LARE”!… AND– INDEED!– ON HIS “POLITICAL HANGOUTS”!
    .
    AND SO… OH TRUMPETER!… IT’S TIME TO BOARD THE BALLOON!
    .
    Lastly, on the matter of the revelations of Julian Assange… Julian Assange will be vindicated for his uncovering of the truth re sundry U.S. Military Strategic “Tactical Operations” that saw the wrongful deaths of innocent civilians, in the same manner that sundry were vindicated in the uncovering of the truth about the My Lai Massacre (see, Wikipedia!)! And!… DARE A-N-Y-O-N-E suggest today, that revealing the truth about what happened at My Lai, was a BETRAYAL of the interests of America, and of American Security!
    .
    Please!… no emails!

  11. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Flailing Donald. In what is likely to be the refrain of the Donald maladministration, his groupies have come up with another outrageous claim to feed the base and distract from how his team works – and fails to work. In this one, the Donald claims, via the not-journalist-reviewed medium of twitter, that his predecessor wiretapped HIM before he entered office.

    One might be forgiven for thinking that monitoring Russian representatives in the US – the apparent context of this claim – has been a routine FBI activity since J. Edgar avoided dismissal over his role in the First Red Scare at the end of World War One. It’s one of J. Edgar’s obsessions that has become part of the FBI’s DNA. In DonaldLand, such observations are as useless as flapping one’s arms while dropping down the rabbit hole.

  12. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Not to put too fine a point on it, this quote by the biographer of John Maynard Keynes was too precious to pass by. It concludes a Guardian article on what the Great Depression might teach us about today:

    ““Trump will be impeached, assassinated or frustrated by Congress,” [Robert] Skidelsky suggests. “Or he will remain popular enough to overcome the liberal consensus that he is a shit of the first order. After all, a lot of people agree with what he is doing.””

    https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/mar/04/crash-1929-wall-street-what-the-great-depression-reveals-about-our-future

  13. RPDC says:

    That interview was atrocious.  There’s no evidence or even inference that Trump was involved with the hacks or the leaks.  As for Russian connections, there are none there either, compared to Clinton receiving $150M for shepherding a deal to give Russia control of the world market for nuclear material, and her husband getting a half-million for a speech.  Then Podesta was added to the lobbyist payroll for Putin’s bank in the middle of the campaign.

    Regarding Sessions, when Franken’s entire question is read instead of the truncated version, it is clear that he is referring to the question of whether Trump surrogates had a continuing exchange of information with Russian intermediaries.  To claim that there is any cause for concern with Sessions is simply ugly Russophobia.

    Being a bigot isn’t a good look.  Even worse than the rest of the interview.

    • John Casper says:

      RPDC,

      You wrote “As for Russian connections, there are none there either, compared to Clinton receiving $150M for shepherding a deal to give Russia control of the world market for nuclear material, and her husband getting a half-million for a speech.”

      WRT the first clause, “none” covers a lot of ground, “As for Russian connections, there are none there either,…”

      What about Gmail’s email to Podesta  telling him to change his password?

      WRT fissile material, unless you think Russians will sell it to terrorists, why do you want it?

  14. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Not many people read Franken’s complete question in such a limited context, nor did they interpret Session’s confusing and contradicting answers with such clarity.  As for xenophobia, there’s plenty in the Trump administration itself to go round without inventing it in his critics. 

    Objections to alleged Russian state interference in domestic American politics are aimed at possible Russian state actions, not Russians, just as criticism of Israeli action in, say, Palestine would be criticism of state action and not an example of antisemitism.  We should be prepared for abundant charges of hypocrisy, however: no state interferes as much in foreign state elections and politics as does the US.

    • RPDC says:

      Your response amounts to “not many people feel that way” and “two wrongs make a right.”

      Not many people read Franken’s complete question at all; it’s truncated in nearly every story.  And it’s not a question of interpretation; the question was specifically concerning the “Russian dossier.”

      Franken: “CNN just published a story alleging that the intelligence community provided documents to the president-elect last week that included information that quote, ‘Russian operatives claimed to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump.’ These documents also allegedly say quote, ‘There was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump’s surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government.’   Now, again, I’m telling you this as it’s coming out, so you know. But if it’s true, it’s obviously extremely serious and 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?”

      There’s no “interpretation” when the questioner is reading direct quotes from a specific document.

      Sessions: “Senator Franken, 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 communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment on it.”

      Thus, Sessions: (1) says he was not aware of “those activities,” meaning “Russian operatives claiming to have compromising information,” and “a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government“; (2) then as support for that statement notes that he was called a surrogate and didn’t have communications with the Russians as claimed in the dossier; and (3) therefore that he cannot comment on “what he will do” if it turns out that those allegations are true.

      He’s not denying that he ever had communications with the Russians, as that’s not even germane to the question.  He’s answering the question that was posed, and his answer must be interpreted in the context of that question, which is the legal standard for interpreting sworn testimony.

      • LeMoyne says:

        Interesting… I thought Sessions just missed the the ‘what would you do part’ and was replying to the revelations of multiple contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians.  In his later explanations, J. B. did say he was surprised by the news which would explain his missing the question at the end and replying to the setup.  So, I prefer the interpretation that Sessions didn’t even get to the action question.  He denied any knowledge of or involvement in the Russian contacts and therefore couldn’t comment at all. Classic deny, duck and cover.

        How you get from Sessions “I didn’t have communications with the Russians” to your “He’s not denying that he ever had communications with the Russians” is beyond me.  The contacts between sTrumpets and the Russians are germane to Franken’s question as its premise and Sessions response has an equally germane (yet false) denial as its centerpiece.  Sessions volunteered his denials in response to a different question on the same topic – the behavior of a campaign Sessions was involved with for over a year.

        You are entirely correct that very few people seem to have noticed Franken’s actual question.  Now it’s all water under the bridge : we have seen what AG Sessions would do is recuse himself from as little as possible.  There’s our true and real answer to Franken’s question  …  unless there is some other curveball in his written clarification to the Judiciary committee or in his forthcoming actions as Attorney General.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Sen. Franken asked a hypothetical about possible election-related contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian government interests.  An interesting question, given the abrupt end to General Flynn’s government employment, asked in a form common in congressional hearings and one Sessions would have prepared for.

        Part of Session’s answer was competent, if contradictory: I’m not aware, I can’t comment.  It’s so common an answer- because it avoids facts, avoids claims of falsehood and perjury – that a version of it has become a cliche: “I have no  recollection of that, Senator.”

        Unfortunately for Sessions, he didn’t stop there.  He volunteered a specific, personal, fact: “I didn’t have communications with the Russians.” Instead of evading or shutting down a topic, he opened a can of worms.  They’re still wriggling.

  15. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Now we’re to await Sessions’s “amended answers” to the Senate committee.  Presumably, Sessions hopes to thereby avoid having to reappear before Franken and his colleagues, which would expose Sessions to a less controlled atmosphere than the private, staff-controlled process of crafting amended answers.  The move would also be an attempt to preclude perjury allegations, which voluntary and prompt corrections often achieve.

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