TrumpWatch, Day 145: Sessions Stonewalls in Senate Hearing

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions listens to a question while testifying on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 13, 2017, before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing about his role in the firing of James Comey, his Russian contacts during the campaign and his decision to recuse from an investigation into possible ties between Moscow and associates of President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Sessions combines refusals to answer with flamboyant declaration to prevent further damage to Trump Administration


Developments on Day 145 of the Trump Administration:

See also Podcast: From Trump’s Threat v. Special Counsel to Sessions’ Testimony

Sessions Gives Little to Senate Hearing on Trump-Russia

Attorney General Jeff Sessions tries to hold both a personal and Trump Administration line in his public testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Sessions was prompted to appear before the committee because of last Thursday’s testimony in open and closed session by former FBI Director James Comey, who served under the Attorney General until his dismissal by Donald Trump last month. Comey’s statement raised more questions about Sessions’ role in the firing — even though the Attorney General had been forced to recuse himself from the Trump-Russia inquiry — and about the Attorney General’s meetings, while he was involved with the Trump campaign, with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak in 2016.

In almost three hours before the committee, Sessions blocked attempts to shed more light on events. After criticizing Comey, the Attorney General then tried to maintain the line that the FBI Director was dismissed over inappropriate statements about the inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s e-mails — a line shredded by Donald Trump’s blunt statements that Comey was removed because of the Trump-Russia investigation.

As for his two — and probably three — meetings with Kislyak, Sessions repeatedly said that he could not recall any encounters. And on other issues, he invoked the executive privilege of the Presidency to withhold information, even though Donald Trump has not yet claimed this: “I am protecting the right of the President to assert it if he chooses; and there may be other privileges that could apply in this circumstance.”

To accompany and possibly obscure the stonewalling, Sessions tried to go on the offensive with the declaration that any claim of his collusion with Russian officials was an “appalling and detestable lie”. He insisted that the third meeting with Kislyak did not occur in the Mayflower Hotel in Washington DC in April 2016 amid a Trump speech at the venue.

Openings for Further Investigation

While Sessions’ attempt to hold the Administration’s fort may have given some respite from the near-daily revelations stepping up pressure — Fox News avoided references to Russia while hailing the criticism of Comey and Sessions’ “defending [his] honor” — his performance also left openings for further investigation.

Despite his supposed concerns about Comey’s performance, Sessions acknowledged that he never spoke to the FBI Director about any deficiencies. The Attorney General’s blame of Comey over the inquiry into Clinton e-mails stood uneasily along his praise, as a US Senator in 2016, of that inquiry. Sessions was unclear about why he left the Oval Office on February 14, just before Trump asked Comey to limit the investigation of Michael Flynn, belatedly dismissed the previous day over his own conversations with Russian Ambassador Kislyak.

In perhaps the most jaw-dropping moments, Sessions claimed total ignorance or lack on concern — both by him and by Donald Trump — about Russia’s intervention in the 2016 election.

Asked by Senator Angus King if he had sought information on the Russian operations, Sessions replied, “I know nothing but what I’ve read in the paper. I’ve never received any detailed briefing on how a hacking occurred or how information was alleged to have influenced the campaign.”

Then Sessions was asked by Senator Joe Mnuchin, “In the campaign up until through the transition, were there ever any meetings that [Trump] showed any concern or consideration or just inquisitive of what the Russians were doing and if they really had done it?”

Sessions replied, “I don’t recall any such conversation. I’m not sure I understood your question. Maybe I better listen again.”

Pressed one more time, “Were there ever any conversations concerning that whatsoever?”, Sessions said, “I don’t recall it.”

Sessions may also be open to more difficulties if, for a third time, evidence emerges that undermines his story. He did not acknowledge any meetings with Kislyak in his confirmation hearing in January, only for US officials to disclose two discussions. Then, having said that the discrepancy came up became of his uncertainty over the questioning of Senator Al Franken — a claim repeated in Sessions’ opening statement on Tuesday — Sessions faced last week’s revelation of a likely third meeting.

“You Are Not Answering Questions”

But, for the moment, Sessions avoided damage with his combination of the stone wall and the flamboyant declaration. When Senator Ron Wyden said that he was not answering Comey’s assessment that the Attorney General’s behavior after recusing himself from the Russia inquiry was “problematic”, Sessions chuckled and raised his voice, “This is a secret innuendo being leaked out there about me, and I don’t appreciate it.”

Pressed by Senator Kamala Harris to give substantive answers, Sessions appeared to falter for a moment, “I’m not able to be rushed this fast, it makes me nervous,” but quickly regrouped.

Democrats such as Senator Martin Heinrich were left to summarize, “You are not answering questions. You are impeding this investigation.”

TOP PHOTO: Jacquelyn Martin/AP


Senators: Trump Budget A “Waste of Time” and “Dead on Arrival”

Republican Senators challenge the Trump Administration’s budget, to the point of declaring it dead on arrival.

At a hearing with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, whose department’s budget is being slashed 32%, the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, said of a meeting with his staff:

After about five minutes I said, “This is a total waste of time. The budget that’s being presented is not going to be the budget we deal with. It’s just not.

Tillerson tried to argue that the budget “necessitated difficult decisions”, but admitted, “Funding does not equal results.”

Senate Appropriations Committee chairman Lindsay Graham said “I want the country to know I think this budget request is, in many ways, radical and reckless.”

Democrats offered their own criticisms. Robert Menendez of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said the Trump proposal is “dead on arrival” as he questioned the elimination of funding for programs promoting democracy.

The ranking Democrat on the committee, Ben Cardin, told Tillerson: “My concern today, quite frankly, is that your Administration will go down in the history books as being ‘present at the destruction’ of that order we have worked so hard to support and that has so benefited our security and prosperity and ideals.”


Trump to Mayor of Sinking US Island: Don’t Worry About Climate Change

Donald Trump tells the mayor of a small island in Chesapeake Bay in Virginia that there is no cause for concern, even though Tangier could soon disappear because of erosion and rising seas.

Trump phoned James “Ooker” Eskridge, days after CNN aired a story about the impact of climate change on the island in the middle of the bay.

Trump “said not to worry about sea-level rise,” Eskridge reported. “He said, ‘Your island has been there for hundreds of years, and I believe your island will be there for hundreds more.’”

Since 1850, nearly 70% of Tangier’s landmass has been lost. Scientists predict that much of the remainder will sink in as little as 25 years.

Tangier’s historic crabbing community has about 450 people. Almost 87% of those who cast a ballot in the 2016 election voted for Trump.


Democratic Legislators Sue Trump Over Foreign Profits

Almost 200 Democratic lawmakers file a federal lawsuit challenging the foreign profits Donald Trump’s global businesses.

The complaint follows a series of legal challenges by plaintiffs over Trump’s retention of his business interests despite moving into the White House. On Monday, the Attorneys General of Washington DC and Maryland filed a lawsuit claiming an unfair advantage to Trump’s hotels because of the Presidency — in May, a lobbying firm representing the government of Saudi Arabia disclosed it had paid more than $250,000 in lodging and catering fees to the hotel.

The cases also raise a possible violation of the Constitution’s “emoluments clause” prohibiting Presidential profit from foreign entities.

See Podcast: Hotels, the Constitution, & Trump’s Profits from Foreign Payments

Trump has stepped down from running Trump Corporation but retained his ownership interests.

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