In the absence of more information, the saga that has unfolded surrounding the relationship between Attorney General Jeff Sessions, President Donald Trump, and both men’s alleged inappropriate ties to Russia is inexplicable.
The President’s critical comments of Sessions to the New York Times have been widely met with bipartisan criticism. The left has used the direct, public indictment of Sessions by his boss as further evidence of Trump’s poor choice in cabinet members, and Sessions’ own corruption. The right has largely come to the defense of Sessions’ decision to recuse himself, while Charles Krauthammer cited Trump’s use of such a public forum as evidence of his erratic leadership style. Neither Trump nor Sessions are above blame for their deteriorating public image.
Trump’s primary grievance against his hand-selected AG seems on the surface to be Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the notorious Russia investigation. The decision meant that the man Trump trusted to handle investigations, even those into the president’s own conduct, would be handing the reins over to the more politically questionable former FBI director Robert Mueller.
Sessions is not completely at fault for his muddled dialogue with Democratic senators during his confirmation hearing. The semantic question- offered by Dem. Senator Al Franken- of whether he met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in the capacity of a Trump campaign representative, or as a senator and member of the Armed Services committee, are largely to blame. Sessions, however, should have taken the opportunity at his confirmation to clarify that he had in fact met with the Russian ambassador, but that he had not discussed the Trump campaign.
Instead, Sessions left the impression on most that he had not met with Sergey Kislyak at all during his time working with the Trump campaign, when in fact he did twice. This misunderstanding- and the resulting appearance of conflicted interest which it caused- was a contributing factor in Sessions’ decision to step down as leader of the Trump-Russia collusion investigation.
So, in a roundabout way, the President is justified in laying the blame for Sessions’ decision to recuse himself at the AG’s own doorstep. But, his critics are right in stating that this somewhat twisted justification is no justification for the method which Trump chose to air his grievances against Sessions. It’s apparent that the President feels personally betrayed by and lied to by Sessions. Others see the reason for Sessions’ recusal more innocently, as a combination of poor foresight, ambiguously worded questions and answers, and significant misunderstanding.
It is still unclear whether Sessions lied to the President and Senate when he said he never acted as a Trump-campaign representative in meetings with Kislyak. The President’s assertion to the New York Times that Sessions should have declined the Attorney General’s job insinuates that he believes Sessions’ meetings with Kislyak- not the odd dialogue that occurred at his confirmation hearing- were the true reasons for the recusal.
Of course, to err is to be Trump, and he is far from all-knowing. Upon accepting the job of AG, it is possible that Sessions saw his time with the Trump campaign as inconsequential. As the Russia narrative evolved, it became clearer that mere association with Trump’s campaign could present the image of a compromised Sessions with regards to the Trump campaign. The lack of clarity in his confirmation hearing comments regarding Russia made this even truer. It is not necessarily true that Sessions’ ultimate recusal is an admission that he acted as a Trump representative in meeting with Kislyak prior to the election, despite Trump apparently now believing this to be the case.
All of this leads us to the latest ‘bombshell’, dropped by none other than the Washington Post. The report, which adheres to the recent journalistic trend of relying exclusively on anonymous sources, also purports to be based upon information that would come directly from the intelligence community. This, too, continues a disturbing trend of intelligence leaks that pertain exclusively to the Trump-Russia narrative, and not a single other high-profile issue.
The report cites “current and former U.S. officials” in its assertion that U.S. spying activities uncovered transmission that revealed, ‘Sessions and Kislyak had “substantive” discussions on matters including Trump’s positions on Russia-related issues and prospects for U.S.-Russia relations in a Trump administration.’
This would, if substantiated, run counter to Sessions’ testimony that he acted not as a Trump advisor, but as a U.S. senator, in his meetings with Kislyak. But the nature of the leak, which was apparently given directly to The Washington Post by the U.S. intelligencia, and the reliance on anonymous sources means the story does require corroboration.
Keep in mind that we have now, apparently, given up hope of uncovering direct evidence of collusion to “rig” the 2016 presidential election. Now, catching Sessions in a lie regarding whether he mentioned the Trump presidency in any of the two meetings with Kislyak will be enough for many to convict the whole administration.
Further, the Department of Justice has issued a statement asserting that Attorney General Sessions reiterates his testimony that he did not discuss the Trump campaign in meetings with Kislyak:
"Obviously I cannot comment on the reliability of what anonymous sources describe in a wholly uncorroborated intelligence intercept that the Washington Post has not seen and that has not been provided to me, but the Attorney General stands by his testimony from just last month,” Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said.
Pending further information, this is not enough to indict Sessions or Trump. However, the greater takeaway may be the strain that the Russia narrative is putting on Trump, his cabinet, and the growing sense of mistrust between the two. Perhaps this infighting is the most threatening result the Russia narrative and investigation will produce, but it could prove enough to constitute election-swaying consequences.
It is too early to tell the direct ramifications- if any- that will emerge from the investigation into Trump administration-Russian collusion. The indirect consequences, however, are already apparent. They include a rattled Trump babbling to the same liberal media he routinely slams, in doing so throwing one of his earliest supporters and current Attorney General under the bus. The narrative has also resulted in Jeff Sessions at times appearing weak-minded at best, and misleading or sinister at worst. And they include a public that, if speaking honestly, would tell you that they don’t know what is up and what is down when it comes to the Trump-Russia narrative.
This may be all that the left ever hoped to achieve. If this is the case, they have already succeeded in their mission to erode public confidence in the Trump administration. However, something tells me that this narrative won’t rest until impeachment.