“I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign,” said Sessions in March when it was first revealed that he’d met with the Russian ambassador, Sergei Kislyak, last year. Those meetings were in my capacity as a senator, Sessions insisted, not as a campaign staffer for Donald Trump. The most he would admit to was that he didn’t recall ever discussing the campaign with any ambassador but that diplomats do tend to be “gossipy” about American politics. Uh huh.
And now here we are, with a bombshell leak to end the week. Question: Who ordered the Code Red on Jeff Sessions?
Ambassador Sergey Kislyak’s accounts of two conversations with Sessions — then a top foreign policy adviser to Republican candidate Donald Trump — were intercepted by U.S. spy agencies, which monitor the communications of senior Russian officials both in the United States and in Russia. Sessions initially failed to disclose his contacts with Kislyak and then said that the meetings were not about the Trump campaign.
One U.S. official said that Sessions — who testified that he has no recollection of the April encounter — has provided “misleading” statements that are “contradicted by other evidence.” A former official said that the intelligence indicates that 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…
A former U.S. official who read the Kislyak reports said that the Russian ambassador reported speaking with Sessions about issues that were central to the campaign, including Trump’s positions on key policy matters of significance to Moscow.
Democrats have been flaying Sessions for months for supposedly perjuring himself by not disclosing his meetings with Kislayk. Now they’ve got larger caliber ammo, evidence that Sessions lied outright about what he and Kislyak discussed. Sessions is besieged on all sides — the left hates him, Trump admittedly regrets hiring him, and his own deputies at the DOJ will be left wondering if their boss lied to Congress under oath about the extent of his dialogue with Putin’s top lackey in the U.S. How does he stay in the job?
This is now the third Kislyak-related bombshell to burst over a top Trump official’s head. The first, most famous detonation took out Mike Flynn, who was overheard by U.S. intelligence chatting about sanctions with Kislyak in December. The second was Jared Kushner, who supposedly told Kislyak he wanted to open a back channel to Moscow via the Russian embassy, where American intercepts wouldn’t pick up the conversation. The big difference between Flynn and Kushner is that Kushner wasn’t overheard saying this; it was Kislyak who was overheard relaying Kushner’s request to his superiors in Russia, raising a crucial question of whether Kislyak might have been lying in order to damage Kushner, knowing that Americans were listening in on his conversation. That’s the same scenario we have here — to believe that Sessions perjured himself you need to believe that Kislyak told his Russian colleagues the truth about his chats with Sessions. U.S. officials told WaPo that Kislyak “has a reputation for accurately relaying details about his interactions with officials in Washington,” but that and a dollar will get you a bag of chips.
Back to the key question: Who ordered the Code Red on Sessions by leaking this to the Post? One obvious suspect in light of everything that’s happened this week is — ta da — the president himself, or intelligence people loyal to him. The obvious flaw in that theory is that Trump would look even more suspect on Russiagate is if his soon-to-be AG was wheeling and dealing with Russia on policy during the campaign, but Trump’s never let a small matter like basic self-interest stand in his way when there’s revenge to be taken. If he wants Sessions out and he’d prefer that he resign rather than be fired, a leak like this is a nifty way to do it. Is Trump crafty enough to do that, though? And are there any intelligence people loyal sufficiently loyal to him that they’d be willing to whisper to the Post to take Sessions out? I guess if there were intel staffers willing to lead Devin Nunes to evidence of dubious unmasking, there are intel staffers willing to execute a political hit on the AG.
If the culprit’s not Trump or someone who’s pro-Trump, then whodunnit? Democrats who have it in for Sessions surely would have leaked this sooner, around the time that they were accusing him of perjury for concealing his Kislyak meeting, in order to take him out as quickly as possible. Why save the dirt and give Sessions many extra months as AG to implement policies they oppose?
Two other points in closing. One: When exactly did Kislyak relay this information to Moscow about what he and Sessions discussed? Presumably it was last year sometime, to update them on comtemporaneous conversations he’d had with the campaign. If it was more recent, though, then the information looks more suspect. Why would he have kept it a secret from his boss for so long if he’s telling the truth about what he and Sessions discussed? The more recently Kislyak was overheard saying this, the more likely it is to be a frame-up. Two: Guy Benson’s right. For all the whining Trump’s done lately about Sessions having recused himself from Russiagate, this revelation makes it a cinch that he would have had to recuse himself eventually. You can’t have him overseeing an investigation into whether there were quid pro quos between the Trump campaign and Russia if he was chatting with the Russian ambassador about what Russia policy might look like in a Trump administration.
In fact, think back to James Comey’s testimony before Congress last month and you may remember a curious moment when Comey suggested that the FBI knew something that the public didn’t that led them to believe Sessions would eventually have to recuse himself. Was that a reference to these intercepts? If so, the fact that the feds saw his recusal coming months ago suggests that Kislyak’s conversations with Moscow about Sessions weren’t recent after all. Also, remember when Sessions testified and got mad at the “innuendo” suggested by Comey? Hmmm.