It’s mighty interesting that CNN thinks the chief news value of this revelation is that it appears to contradict something Sessions said when he testified before the Senate two weeks ago. Not that it cuts strongly against the idea that there was some widespread conspiracy at the top of the Trump campaign to collude with Russia, which, last I checked, is supposed to be the core of the Mueller probe. It’s important that Sessions may have given false testimony, especially since his memory allegedly failed him once before when discussing Russiagate matters under oath, but it’s not the biggest scoop here. And yet, CNN’s headline, if you can believe it, is “Sessions under renewed scrutiny on Capitol Hill.”
NBC correctly ledes with the more significant news:
Attorney General Jeff Sessions rejected a proposal by a junior campaign aide who offered to use his “Russian contacts” to try to set up a meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, a source familiar with the matter told NBC News…
The meeting at which Papadopoulos floated the idea of Trump sitting down with Putin occurred March 31, and Sessions can be seen in a photo sitting at the head of the table. At the other end was Trump.
“The March 31 comments by this Papadopoulos person did not leave a lasting impression,” said the person familiar with Sessions’ views. “As far as Sessions seemed to be concerned, when he shut down this idea of Papadopoulos engaging with Russia, that was the end of it and he moved the meeting along to other issues.”
That March 31 meeting of Trump’s foreign policy team was one of only six times that the group met and the only meeting that Trump himself attended. Trump reportedly didn’t say yes or no to Papadopoulos’s suggestion of a photo op with Putin but Sessions, his most prominent Republican supporter, did. The entire reason Papadopoulos is relevant to the investigation is because he doggedly tried to get the Trump campaign together with Russian officials for months, yet here’s an instance of the future Attorney General squashing the idea of a Trump/Putin meeting the minute Papadopoulos proposed it. And somehow that’s not the main angle for CNN.
Sessions testified in June that he wasn’t aware of any conversations between “anyone connected to the Trump campaign” and Russians about “any type of interference with any campaign or election in the United States.”…
Asked under oath at a Senate hearing last month if he believed Trump campaign surrogates had communications with Russians, Sessions replied, “I did not and I’m not aware of anyone else that did, and I don’t believe it happened.”
Sessions got in trouble once before for telling the Senate during his confirmation hearing that he never met with any Russian officials only to have it later revealed that he had met with Sergei Kislyak, the same Russian ambassador whose phone chat with Mike Flynn set in motion the events that led to Flynn’s firing as NSA. It’s always been questionable whether Sessions could have forgotten a meeting like that, even allowing for the fact that senators often meet with foreign diplomats. Presumably he reviewed his own records before his testimony; his memory could have and should have been freshened about meeting Kislyak.
In the case of Papapdopoulos proposing a Trump/Putin meeting, though, it’s not only plausible that Sessions really didn’t remember, it’s likely. Why *would* he have remembered? He and Papadopoulos were on a committee that barely met, he shot down Papadopoulos’s suggestion immediately — evidence of how forgettable he thought it was — and he probably had no idea who Papadopoulos was. According to both WaPo and the Daily Beast, Papadopoulos either exaggerated or outright fabricated his already very thin resume when he joined the campaign. His own college classmates barely remember him and one of his professors frankly admits he wasn’t a very good student. He was only a foreign policy advisor in the first place, it seems, because the Trump campaign couldn’t draw any prominent names from the Republican ranks to join their team and had to resort to filling chairs with warm bodies to give the appearance that it was fully staffed with respected experts. To some extent, notes Matt Bai, POTUS was a patsy on his campaign, hiring dubious operators like Paul Manafort because he was strapped for personnel and didn’t know any better. There’s no reason why Sessions, whose campaign work wasn’t even his main gig in Washington, would remember a nobody like Papadopoulos for a one-time offhand suggestion that was stupid on its face.
But just because Sessions is likely innocent doesn’t mean the entire campaign hierarchy is. The fact remains that dopey, low-level George Papadopoulous was pushing the idea of meetings with Russians to big cheeses like Manafort and Sam Clovis frequently and not getting the same hard “no” that he got from Sessions. In fact, Papadopoulos claimed in an email to a Russian contact at one point last summer that his idea for a meeting between “my national chairman and maybe one other foreign policy adviser” with members of Putin’s office had already been “approved by our side.” Was that true? If so, who approved it?