Last night I wrote a whole post defending Sessions from the charge that he lied under oath about knowing Trump campaign staffers were in contact with the Russians, only to have this story break at around the same time. It wasn’t just George Papadopoulos who mentioned something to him about Russia last year. It was Carter Page too. How can I defend him now?
Pretty easily, actually, even if it means forfeiting my membership in Salon Conservatives Club. Is this really what Democrats are hoping to hang a perjury charge against Sessions on? That Carter Page said something to him in passing 16 months ago?
“I don’t make anything sinister out of it. He said Sessions did not react or comment one way or the other,” [House Intel member Mike] Conaway said in an interview. “If I were Sessions, I wouldn’t have recalled it either. It was just in passing. He was walking out of the room. A guy he had never met before, grabs him, ‘Hey, I’m out on the team. I changed my travel plans to go to Russia.'”…
“Back in June 2016, I mentioned in passing that I happened to be planning to give a speech at a university in Moscow,” [Carter] Page told CNN. “Completely unrelated to my limited volunteer role with the campaign and as I’ve done dozens of times throughout my life. Understandably, it was as irrelevant then as it is now. If it weren’t for the dodgy dossier and all the chaos that those complete lies had created, my passing comment’s complete lack of relevance should go without saying.”…
A source familiar with the meeting told CNN that the encounter occurred at a dinner at the Capitol Hill Club, attended by members of the Trump national security team, including Sessions. Near the end of the dinner, Page approached Sessions to say hello and thanked the then-senator for the dinner, and Page also mentioned he was headed to Russia. Sessions didn’t respond and moved on to the next person waiting to shake his hand, this source said.
Every new account of Sessions hearing something about Russia during the campaign puts him deeper in legal jeopardy, especially since his memory about his own meeting with the Russian ambassador in 2016 has proved fault when testifying before. This week we found out that Papadopoulos told Trump and Sessions at a foreign-policy meeting last March that he had connections who might be able to arrange a meeting between Trump and Putin. Now we find out that Page mentioned to Sessions that he was headed to Russia last summer. Sessions has been asked repeatedly in various appearances before Senate committees whether he knew if anyone inside the campaign was in contact with Russians, met with Russians, cooperated with Russians, etc etc. Nope, Sessions has insisted. Never heard a thing. Now here are two instances that prove otherwise. Has he been lying?
Or did he just not remember these eminently forgettable encounters? What Page allegedly said to Sessions was even less memorable than what Papadopoulos said. Papadopoulos was a twentysomething nobody whose idea of a Trump/Putin meeting was apparently shot down instantly at the meeting by Sessions himself, but he was in fact proposing some form of campaign cooperation with Moscow. If Page is to be believed, he didn’t suggest any such thing to Sessions. All he said was that he going to Moscow to give a speech. Did Sessions know him well enough to have that raise a red flag in his mind or was his reaction essentially, “Who is this guy again?” Absent Page explicitly recommending cooperation between the campaign and Russia, why would Sessions remember what Page had said to him? As a U.S. senator and a top advisor to a presidential nominee, imagine how many people he was dealing with it hour by hour every day, both inside and outside the campaign. A statement from a staffer that didn’t ring any alarm bells for him naturally might not stick in his memory. I can’t believe this penny ante crap is what the possibility of Russiagate collusion momentarily turns on. We’re all expecting revelations along the lines of secret phone calls between Manafort and Putin’s deputy about stealing Democratic emails and instead we get Carter Page gladhanding Jeff Sessions at a dinner for 15 seconds. For cripes sake.
Here was the other supposed “scoop” last night. Why did Jeff Sessions try to hide the fact that Papadopoulos had mentioned Russia?
At a March 31, 2016, meeting between Mr. Trump and his foreign policy team, Mr. Papadopoulos introduced himself and said “that he had connections that could help arrange a meeting between then-candidate Trump and President Putin,” according to court records…
Mr. Trump listened with interest. Mr. Sessions vehemently opposed the idea, Mr. Gordon recalled. “And he said that no one should talk about it,” because Mr. Sessions thought it was a bad idea that he did not want associated with the campaign, he said.
Somehow this is supposed to be inculpatory — Sessions silenced the Russia talk! — rather than exculpatory. Leave it to the successful politician in the room to recognize immediately that photo ops with Putin would be a heinously bad idea for any U.S. candidate but particularly one who was already suspect among hawks because he seemed to admire the Russian autocrat. So bad was it, apparently, that Sessions didn’t want outsiders to know that it had even been suggested. And he made a big show of rejecting it in front of Trump himself, which may have made an impression on the candidate about how forbidden the idea of Russia collusion was. You need to strain awfully hard to find Sessions’s reaction to Papadopoulos somehow damning rather than exonerating.
And one other thing, which may be snide but which must be said: If you’ve ever watched Carter Page give an interview on TV, you’ve probably come away with the impression that he’s, ah, a bit of a doofus who’s way, waaaaay too eager to talk about his dealings with Russia. That impression was evidently reinforced yesterday during his congressional testimony, which, according to lawmakers, was “meandering, at-times confusing and contradictory.” Page didn’t even bring a lawyer with him, a fact that will leave attorneys woozy given how much legal jeopardy he’s in potentially. Based on what you’ve seen and heard of Page, does he strike you as someone who’d be a linchpin of collusion between Team Trump and the Kremlin? Does he seem like someone whom Jeff Sessions would have paid much attention to or taken very seriously? “Too dopey to be dangerous” is a risky defense, but if anyone can make it work, it may be Page.