In 2016, the GOP took a puritanical tone when it came to discussing former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton had, for years, used a private e-mail server in the basement of her upstate New York home to conduct government business. While her supporters tried to argue that the growing scandal was a mere triviality, Republicans insisted that the consequences for her recklessness and arrogance should be severe. As Election Day approached, Republican nominee Donald Trump vowed to “drain the swamp” and end corruption in Washington. The government, he implied to voters, would be held accountable.
But now that Trump’s team is in charge, it seems that government rule-breaking hasn’t exactly disappeared. In an embarrassing turn of events, National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, a former general, resigned after it turned out that he spoke to the Russian ambassador while still a private citizen. Technically, Flynn’s dialogue with the diplomat violated the Logan Act, which prohibits the conduct of foreign policy by private citizens.
And, as most people can begrudgingly attest from personal experience, the violation of the little-known rule was made worse by… refusing to come clean about it. Flynn, when asked by investigators, insisted that he did not discuss American sanctions on Russia when he spoke to that nation’s ambassador- but phone transcripts indicate otherwise. Quickly, Flynn resigned his post.
In the midst of the Flynn brouhaha, the new Trump administration was dealing with other crises: Betsy DeVos’ record-high unpopularity, federal courts striking down the travel ban, et cetera. Then Donald Trump got his mojo back with a well-received speech to a joint session of Congress. Instead of the gloom-and-doom he decried in his inaugural address, the outspoken billionaire had a “Reagan moment” by presenting an optimistic future for the country. Some pundits went so far as to say that the newer, smoother version of Donald Trump might actually be able to win re-election in 2020 if he did not revert to his old ways.
Unfortunately for Trump, one of his most controversial cabinet appointments has come back to rain on his brief parade: Attorney General Jeff Sessions has stumbled into his own Russia scandal. Before Trump took office, Sessions, then a U.S. Senator (R-AL), also met with the Russian ambassador. Although Sessions is not accused of breaking any laws, since he was indeed a member of the government who was allowed to conduct foreign policy, critics are incensed that he did not disclose the meeting during his Attorney General confirmation hearings.
Democrats insisted that it was inappropriate for Sessions, as Attorney General, to oversee the ongoing Justice Department investigations into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. After initially insisting that there was no reason to recuse himself from any such investigations, Sessions has reversed course and handed oversight of those investigations to his deputy, Dana Boente.
The decision was wise, for Session’s refusal to recuse himself from all things Russian made him look like a hypocrite. When he was a Senator, Sessions went after alleged Democrat corruption with bulldog tenacity, especially when it came to Hillary Clinton’s notorious e-mail scandal. In 2016, the former Alabama judge called for a special prosecutor to be assigned in the Clinton case, alleging that then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch was biased in favor of Hillary Clinton. Controversially, Lynch had met with former president Bill Clinton, Hillary’s husband, on the tarmac of the Phoenix airport while the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mail server was still ongoing.
Session’s smart decision to recuse himself, and avoid being tarnished as a hypocrite of the worst degree, is a temporary victory for Democrats. In the aftermath of Trump’s popular speech, they certainly need one.
Now that Sessions has stepped aside on any investigations dealing with Russia, the ball is in the Democrats’ court. They should tread lightly, for continuing to jab at Sessions will quickly look like sour grapes. While Democrats should applaud themselves for correctly applying political pressure and ensuring that American justice is impartial, continuing to call for Sessions’ resignation could quickly be construed as a partisan witch-hunt.
Sure, Sessions was in the wrong for failing to disclose his meeting with the Russian ambassador… but, unlike Michael Flynn, he had reason to do so, at least on paper. His staff contends that the meeting was related to his duties as chair of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, which is completely plausible. For liberals to argue that the meeting was Trump-related, or had anything to do with “rigging” the 2016 general election, is too far-fetched. Dems need to take their win on the Sessions recusal and not overreach.
But with blood in the water over Russia, look for all anti-Trumpers, from Democrats to dissatisfied Republicans, to be watching like hawks for any signs that other Trump appointees have not engaged in full disclosure. Having scored a minor victory, liberals are energized and looking to capitalize on their gains. President Trump needs to make sure his people are squeaky clean, and encourage any who are not to quietly [as possible] resign before scandals break.