C’mon. If we’re looking to score a point on Pelosi with old photos, we can do better than one of her at a table with some Russians.
But okay, I get it. As with Claire McCaskill and her own faulty memory yesterday, the point of the Pelosi/Kislyak photo isn’t about how objectionable the Russians are but rather catching her in a very inconvenient untruth. If she could honestly forget meeting Kislyak briefly in 2010, isn’t it also possible that Jeff Sessions honestly forgot meeting him last September even though, er, Russian hacking and Trump praising Russia’s president were major stories at the time?
“Not with this Russian ambassador, no,” Pelosi told POLITICO’s Jake Sherman and Anna Palmer during a Playbook interview, when asked if she’d ever met with the Russian envoy.
But a file photo from Pelosi’s 2010 meeting with Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev shows Kislyak at the table across from Pelosi — then House speaker — and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). Medvedev had been in the country for a meeting with President Barack Obama a day earlier and stopped in on Capitol Hill to meet with congressional leaders as well.
Asked to square Pelosi’s comments with the photo of the meeting, a spokesman said that Pelosi had simply meant she never had a solo meeting with Kislyak.
Here’s Trump converting the easy lay-up. Or not so easy: He had to delete and resend this tweet more than once because he couldn’t spell “hereby” correctly on the first try.
If you take that seriously, he’s calling for a federal investigation into Russian influence over the House and Senate minority leaders. But no one takes it seriously. Just six weeks into his term, we’ve already reached the point where most of the public can dismiss such things as the president of the United States merely doing a bit of harmless trolling about Russian espionage and Democratic Party motives.
Here’s the mystery: Why do Democrats like Pelosi and McCaskill continue to make dopey bets on the fact that they’ve never met the Russian ambassador when it’s exceedingly likely that they have? Most prominent members of Congress, I’m sure, have met high-ranking Russians at one time or another. Kislyak’s been ambassador since 2008; his job requires him to seek out meetings with influential American politicians. Why the hell wouldn’t he have met Pelosi, and why wouldn’t Pelosi just assume that she’s met him even if she couldn’t specifically remember? She’s a former Speaker! Of course she’s met him, and Dmitri Medvedev too.
The correct answer to questions like the one she got isn’t “I never met him,” it’s “We meet with diplomats every day. Sessions’s meeting with Kislyak is suspicious, though, because he was a top Trump supporter at a moment when Russia was interfering in the campaign to try to help Trump win and some Trump campaign aides were allegedly communicating with Russians.” It’s not inherently dubious to meet with any Russian official, including Putin, as Trump will surely soon do. What makes it superficially dubious is if you’re part of a team whose members, including Sessions himself, have been investigated by the FBI as part of a broader Russia influence probe. That doesn’t mean Sessions is guilty of anything, but it explains why his meeting with Kislyak is somewhat more interesting than Pelosi’s gladhanding session with Kislyak in a roomful of people seven years ago was.
Here’s a much smarter reply from Dianne Feinstein:
On CNN, Sen. Dianne Feinstein describes meetings with Russian ambassador. 'I believe he's been in my office from time to time.'
— Byron York (@ByronYork) March 2, 2017
Sessions could have given that answer himself at his confirmation hearing and, while the usual suspects would have raised an eyebrow, most people would have thought nothing of it. He would have been forthcoming about having met a diplomat, as senators are wont to do. End of story. But now we are where we are. If Democrats want to keep playing this “I can’t even spell ‘Russia’!” game as photo after photo emerges of them eating doughnuts with Putin, okay. The national debate can always get stupider.
Update: Not surprising: Feinstein and other Democratic senators want Jeff Sessions back on the Hill to answer questions about meeting with Russians.