The right call, and really the only call. How was he supposed to oversee a probe of contacts between Russia and Trump campaign officials when he’s already been, however briefly, one of the subjects of it?
A conversation with Russia’s ambassador eventually brought down Mike Flynn and a chat with the same guy has now forced the new Attorney General to recuse himself from a major investigation after less than a month in office. Today’s Onion headline: “Russian Officials Scrambling As Plan To Delegitimize Western Democracy Moving Way Faster Than Intended.”
Sessions said discussions about his recusal began before the revelation of his meetings with Kislyak. He said he and ethics officials had agreed on Monday to meet for a final time Thursday.
Sessions defended his comment on meetings with Russian officials to Franken as “honest and correct as I understood it at the time,” though he also said he would “write the Judiciary Committee soon — today or tomorrow — to explain this testimony for the record.” His explanation, he said, was that he was “taken aback” by Franken’s question — which referenced a breaking news story about contacts between Trump surrogates and Russians.
“It struck me very hard, and that’s what I focused my answer on,” he said. “In retrospect, I should have slowed down and said I did meet one Russian official a couple times. That would be the ambassador.”
Last year Sessions called on Loretta Lynch to recuse herself from the Hillary Emailgate investigation after she met with Bill Clinton on her plane, so the left was going to force him to take his own medicine here. Why Sean Spicer would be so stupid as to tell the media earlier this afternoon “There’s nothing to recuse himself [from]” when it was really obvious Sessions would have to step back, and soon, I can’t imagine.
Trump was also asked about Sessions this afternoon and told reporters he “wasn’t aware at all” that Sessions had met with the Russian ambassador, although he did say that his confidence in his AG was “total.” Another bad sign:
Senior administration official says White House learned of Sessions’ contacts with Russian ambassador from press reports
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) March 2, 2017
I wonder if Sessions would have recused himself as quickly if the White House hadn’t been blindsided by last night’s Russia stories. Trump doesn’t make concessions easily, but with the news having stepped all over his triumph on Tuesday night before Congress, maybe he figured the best thing he could do right now is try to make this go away as quickly as possible. Solution: A swift recusal.
Incidentally, the Sessions news wasn’t the only scoop about Russia and the Trump campaign last night. It had been reported before that the feds were investigating contacts between Trump campaign aides and Russians, but the fact that foreign intelligence services had gathered evidence is new to me, at least. As is the detail that U.S. intel overheard the Russians themselves discussing those contacts:
American allies, including the British and the Dutch, had provided information describing meetings in European cities between Russian officials — and others close to Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — and associates of President-elect Trump, according to three former American officials who requested anonymity in discussing classified intelligence.
Separately, American intelligence agencies had intercepted communications of Russian officials, some of them within the Kremlin, discussing contacts with Trump associates…
But what was going on in the meetings was unclear to the officials, and the intercepted communications did little to clarify matters — the Russians, it appeared, were arguing about how far to go in interfering in the presidential election.
The “Trump dossier” allegedly compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele also included allegations of meetings between Trump staffers and Russians. If you believe the Independent, the Senate Intelligence Committee is trying to convince Steele to come to the U.S. and testify, but with no luck yet.
Here’s Sessions’s presser from earlier this hour, in which he announces the recusal and denies ever having held meetings with Russian intermediaries or operatives about the Trump campaign. He starts speaking at right around 5:00. He’s asked at around 12:15 whether he remembers having any discussions about the campaign with any ambassadors and says “I don’t recall,” but notes that ambassadors tend to be “gossipy” about elections. Hmmm.
Update: Just to show you what sort of feeding frenzy the left is in right now, here’s an actual quote from the lead editorial today in what’s supposed to be America’s most respected newspaper: “We do not yet know all the facts, but we know enough to see that Attorney General Sessions has to go as well.”