Maybe Stephen Miller’s Discussions with George Papadopoulos Are Why Jeff Sessions Can’t Recall Any Email Discussions?

Over the weekend, the NYT published the best reported piece yet on the George Papadopoulos plea. I’m most intrigued by the description of how a young Russian intern turned Joseph Mifsud into a Russian expert in 2014. But the most important detail in the story is that the loathsome Stephen Miller is the Senior Policy Adviser described in the plea.

The day before he learned about the hacked emails, Mr. Papadopoulos emailed Mr. Miller, then a senior policy adviser to the campaign, saying Mr. Trump had an “open invitation” from Mr. Putin to visit Russia. The day after, he wrote Mr. Miller that he had “some interesting messages coming in from Moscow about a trip when the time is right.”

Those emails were described in court papers unsealed Oct. 30 disclosing that Mr. Papadopoulos had pleaded guilty to lying about his contacts to the F.B.I. But the documents did not identify Mr. Miller by name, citing only a “senior policy adviser.” Neither he nor his lawyer responded on Friday to requests for comment.

During interviews with Mr. Mueller’s investigators, former campaign officials now working at the White House have denied having advance knowledge of the stolen emails, according to an official familiar with those discussions. Mr. Miller was among those recently interviewed.

The NYT hints at what I laid out explicitly: FBI charged Papadopoulos for his lies because they were designed to hide whether he told the campaign about the emails Mifsud told him about. And given the timing, it seems highly likely Papadopoulos’ reference in his April 27 email (the government cites just one line from the email, so it may not be the most exciting detail) to “interesting messages coming in from Moscow,” those interesting messages included discussion about the “dirt” Russia had on Hillary in the form of emails.

That is, it seems highly likely that on April 27 (or whenever Papadopoulos was next in DC), Miller learned that Russia had some kind of emails from Hillary.

Miller, recall, is Jeff Sessions’ close aide, his installment in the Administration. The NYT makes clear that Miller was interviewed by Mueller’s team recently, which means he was one of the people the government planned to interview just after locking in Papadopoulos’ plea.

Which makes this exchange from Jeff Sessions’ most recent congressional appearance, on October 18, all the more interesting. First, Patrick Leahy got the Attorney General to admit that there was a difference between not recalling something and affirmatively denying something. Leahy then pointed out that, once the meetings he had denied were disclosed, Sessions started not recalling certain things about the meetings that he had previous affirmatively denied.

Leahy: Later in March, when you did disclose such meetings, you said you could not recall what was said at the meetings. Your answer to my question was an emphatic no. It wasn’t, “I don’t recall.” You are a lawyer, I am a lawyer. You are, in fact, our nation’s top lawyer. Is there a difference between responding “no” and “I do not recall”?

Sessions: Yes.

Leahy: Thank you.

Sessions: Certainly it is, Senator Leahy.

Leahy: So if you could not recall, then you could not answer have answered my first question, yes or no, if later you said that you don’t recall what was discussed. The reason I ask is that, US intelligence intercepts reported in July that it would appear you did in fact discuss campaign issues with the Russian Ambassador.

Leahy then asked Sessions whether he had, since the election, had conversations with Russian officials about a slew of things, starting with emails. Sessions got even squirrelier than he normally is, and first attempted to answer a question Leahy didn’t ask.

Sessions: I have never had a meeting with any Russian officials to discuss any kind of coordinating campaign efforts.

So then Leahy asked about each item in turn.

Leahy: Let’s take this piece by piece. Did you discuss any of the following: Emails?

Sessions: Repeat the question again about emails.

Leahy: Since the 2016 campaign, have you discussed with any Russian connected official anything about emails?

Sessions: Discuss with them. I don’t recall having done any such thing.

Right after this exchange, Sessions totally balks when Leahy asks him if he has been interviewed or asked for an interview by Mueller, saying he should clear it with the Special Counsel.

Now, there was some imprecision in this questioning. It’s clear that Sessions believed he was answering the question about during the campaign, not since it.

But of the things Leahy asked about — emails, Russian interference, sanctions, or any policies or positions of the Trump campaign or presidency — Sessions ultimately not-recalled in response to just one question: the emails.

Based on the past practice Leahy had just laid out, Sessions claimed to not recall issues that he had actually done. Which would suggest Sessions is worried that there’s evidence he has discussed emails — with someone. It’s just not clear how he interpreted that question.

Luckily, he’s due in the House Judiciary Committee tomorrow, when Democrats can try to get him to recall whether he spoke to his top aide, Stephen Miller, about emails the Russians were promising.

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.

19 replies
  1. pseudonymous in nc says:

    I’m most intrigued by the description of how a young Russian intern turned Joseph Mifsud into a Russian expert in 2014. 

    It brings to mind the Mike Hancock case. The details there are pretty staggering.

    Who’s going to take the lead on the Dem questioning of Sessions, and how is Goodlatte (who already announced his retirement) going to handle it?

    • emptywheel says:

      I’ve been informed that they’ve divvied up questions, showing remarkable organization for Democrats. But I have reached out to Lieu’s office with this post.

    • pseudonymous in nc says:

      House, not Senate. So Lieu and Swalwell might be the designated grillers.

      Senate Judiciary’s busy with judicial nominations this week.

  2. orionATL says:

    ew writes:

    “the loathsome stephen miller”

    just so – stephen “dead fish face” miller, a david horowitz acolyte.

    the awakening of a fanatic:

    http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-trump-speechwriter-santamonica-20170117-story.html

    + a politico profile:

    https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/06/stephen-miller-donald-trump-2016-policy-adviser-jeff-sessions-213992

    “… Miller is 30 years old, and in some ways a quintessential member of the Trump 2016 menagerie: an obscure character suddenly elevated to a national role by dint of hard work, loyalty and the boss’s favor. He’s often overshadowed by the campaign’s more flamboyant figures, even as he’s begun appearing on CNN and Fox to defend Trump and explain his policies in strikingly complete and adamant sentences. But among this roster of political outsiders, Miller stands out, especially for people who understand the new forces afoot in Republican politics. He’s deeply connected to some of the most powerful insurgent threads in the Washington GOP, most notably Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions and the Breitbart media machine. As an aide on Capitol Hill, he was a behind-the-scenes architect of the successful effort to kill comprehensive immigration reform in 2014. And while it’s hard to gauge how much Trump is amenable to influence by anyone—at least, by anyone that he didn’t beget—there is no question that Miller is deep, and serious, on the one question that most drives Trump’s unlikely campaign.

    Miller’s talent for combining operational zeal with the ability to effectively frame an idea into one devastating laser beam made him a prized Sessions lieutenant in Washington. “When it comes to issues and messaging and policy, there isn’t anybody else that I’ve known that would be as valuable to a presidential campaign as he,” Sessions told me. “Maybe other than Karl Rove.”… ”

    reprise:
    another trump boy to do a man’s job

    “… Miller is 30 years old, and in some ways a quintessential member of the Trump 2016 menagerie: an obscure character suddenly elevated to a national role by dint of hard work, loyalty and the boss’s favor…”

  3. Rugger9 says:

    I am clearing the meeting schedule to live-stream the Sessions hearing.  Since it is during the day a drink for each lie can’t be done but I’ll think of something.  Is anyone laying a proposition bet on the number of lies (over/under), including the “don’t recall” variety?

    For the lawyers here, at what point does “I don’t recall” become obstruction and/or perjury, and what must Mueller prove to make it stick?

    • SpaceLifeForm says:

      Since the hearing is scheduled to start at 10:00am EST, it will likely be done at noon.

      After wasting 5-10 minutes at beginning, that leaves 22 five minute chunks of time for questioning. With some lame throw-away questions thrown in, I expect about 12 solid questions. With time alotted for Sessions to drink water of course.

      Then I will subtract 3 outright disinformation answers, leaving an over-under of 9 ‘I do not recall’ answers.

      Saying he does not recall twice to same question only counts once.

    • Rugger9 says:

      I recall the Senators trying to pin JeffBo on whether he would claim executive privilege and JeffBo wouldn’t answer directly, saying the Kaiser hadn’t decided.

      The GOP chairs aren’t making him answer, either.  The grace period identified by (I think) Sen. Wyden (or Whitehouse) is long past, and at some point it becomes obstruction by omission.

      Compare that to Silly Billy’s parsing of what “is” is and the GOP responses to that.

  4. Rugger9 says:

    It seems the WH might be getting desperate for ways to keep JeffBo from spilling the beans, and to save the AL Senate seat: just put JeffBo back in! This would require some preliminaries which may not be possible:
    1. Moore drops out of the race, which would be a complete change of heart from the GOP faction that brought us “Second Amendment” Sharron Angle, “I’m Not a Witch” Christine O’Donnell, “Legitimate Rape” Todd Akin and many others who refused to give way when their gaffes wrecked their hopes. I do not see this happening
    2. AL Governor Ivey cancels the special election (I’m pretty sure she can’t legally do this now that it has been scheduled and early voting already started) because the GOP will have an “unforeseen opening on the ballot” (= she doesn’t want Jones to win). Given that she’s already moved the election date around to help the GOP, I cannot dismiss this possibility out of hand on mere illegality because replacing Moore on the ballot is about seven weeks too late.
    3. Gov. Ivey appoints JeffBo back to his old Senate seat. This would open up a new appointee that will fire Mueller on the Kaiser’s orders. However, such an appointee would have to be confirmed by the Senate as AG, and even if Trump nominated Talley for this job, it will be a tough sell for the Ds. I’m sure every one of them will ask the nominee whether they would fire Mueller or act independently of Trump. The AG would at best be confirmed by a party-line vote, perhaps with Pence doing the tiebreaker like he did for Betsy Devos.

    This assumes of course that Sessions would prefer being a Senator (he would, I think) and that the Kaiser has someone who can be AG and be totally loyal and get confirmed by the Senate. The observation made in an earlier thread about why the Congressional GOP wants Mueller gone (Pence wants him gone as well) remains valid, since all of them were involved in the use of hacked DNC data among other sins. The GOP will fall in line if Mueller’s firing is part of the deal.

    https://www.rawstory.com/2017/11/white-house-officials-want-to-remove-sessions-from-doj-so-he-can-take-back-senate-seat-from-roy-moore/

    • bmaz says:

      Yeah. “Not really for the EW crowd”.

      So you posted it here among the EW crowd. Because you are intentionally being a dick.

      Go screw yourself and get out of here, troll. And, next time, I will just bounce your intentionally antagonistic bunk.

  5. maybe ryan says:

    You’re right to out bell for linking to that tripe. I have to admit I’m surprised and amused, since a few months ago, I suggested that there was a lot of horsesh*t being peddled at Pat Lang’s site, and got jumped on for it. Lang has joined up with some very sinister people in his dotage.

    • bmaz says:

      I read it before I reacted. Think you are right, Turcoplier is in a different direction these days.

      And, heck, if I was one of those people (possible!), oooof. The evolution of the net, much less the original blogosphere, is something.

      • maybe ryan says:

        You weren’t one of them.  I’m just surprised at the sea change in awareness here, where I was an unsupported voice then, (unsupported probably because no one other than the one or two people slamming me noticed or really cared, rather than out of any deep admiration for Turcopolier c. 2/2017.)  But now, the moderation sees a link to his site as cause for concern.

        • bmaz says:

          For what it’s worth, moderation is something that has truly changed over the years. It used to be live humans, in mostly real time, back in the day. That was then, not now.

          Now real humans have to check and approve when we can. Hopefully quickly, but not always so depending on what is up in day jobs. Sorry about that.

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