The advantage of being on vacation is that I can watch an entire Trump news cycle play out before commenting on it. So it is with the latest Russia scandal. Apparently, Jeff Sessions, our Attorney General, denied meeting with the Russians during the campaign. But it has now been revealed that he met with the Russian Ambassador twice. Today has brought more revelations of unreported meetings and unreported business ties.
As is usually the case with revelations about this Administration’s contacts with Russia, it provoked an instant reaction of “Treason! Impeachment! Worse than Watergate!” followed by the refractory period of, “OK, we’ll look into it.” as more facts come out. For example, most of these contacts between Trump officials and the Russian ambassador took place at the RNC … at an event organized by the Obama Administration State Department.
A few things to unpack from this.
First, one of the big claims is that Sessions perjured himself in his testimony to Congress. Having thought about this for a while and read quite a bit of online commentary, I’m inclined to think he didn’t. There’s enough leeway in his answers that he can honestly say he didn’t discuss the campaign with Kislyak. One of the most hilarious figures in this mess is now Claire McCaskill. After she claimed to have never met the Russian ambassador, it took ten seconds for conservative Twitter to show that she had. Sessions may have forgotten these meetings or regarded their content as insignificant. His answers were problematic, no question. But sticking a charge of perjury on them requires a lot of facts that are not yet in evidence.
Questions of perjury aside, I agree with the calls for Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from the ongoing Russia investigation (after I drafted this, Sessions agreed to recuse himself). I also think Sessions needs to give a full account of his conversations with Kislyak to determine if he did perjure himself before Congress.
And I agree that there needs to be a full independent Congressional investigation into this matter. At minimum, we’re talking about members of the Administration potentially using their positions to advance their business interests. At worst, we’re talking about the subversion of Administration members by a foreign power. Even if you are a Trump supporter, you can not have this cloud hanging over him for the next four years. There is a tendency for partisans to hunker down and not want to “give in” to the other side. That’s a bad instinct. Bad for America. And frankly bad for Trump. Investigate now. Investigate fully. This isn’t some Daily Kos conspiracy theory any more.
(I suspect, incidentally, that the explanation here is closer to the “business interests” side of the spectrum than the “treason” side. The Trump Administration is filled with amateurs who have no idea how important disclosure is and filled with business people who have ties to Russia and potential conflicts of interests — all the way up to the President himself. If it were shown that the Administration is subverting American interests in favor of Russian ones, that would be one of the worst scandals in American political history. But I find that unlikely to be the case, especially with Sessions who is a notorious hawk on Russia.)
I’ll be honest. We’re a month and a half into the Trump years and I am frankly getting tired of this clown show with the Russians. This entire thing could have been avoided had Trump released his tax returns and disclosed his business interests (and not done his whole, “Putin, if you’re listening” routine). One thing that needs to come out of this is full financial disclosure from both the President and his advisors. Releasing tax returns can no longer be optional. And while we’re on it, we should make medical disclosure mandatory too. We don’t need another JFK hopped up on five kinds of prescription meds trying to navigate a potential nuclear war.