Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Sessions Session

I can't decide whether Jeff Sessions is an Alabama Good Ol' Boy in politics just for the perks or an old schmoozer coasting on his decades in the business. Maybe neither is accurate, but I wasn't disabused of either of those asessments by watching his testimony today.

A few notes that stood out to me:

Co-chair Warner brought up a question I hadn't yet heard anything about: Do you know of any intention by the president to pardon people who might be indicted in this investigation? I don't know why I myself hadn't even considered that possibility. Sessions wouldn't answer - as he wouldn't answer any questions about what the president thought or said (more later). That's an interesting thought exercise though: would Trump be more likely to pardon his cronies or let them take the fall?

Sessions admitted under questioning that it would be improper for him to fire Mueller, and later in the testimony, Senator Lankford said that during earlier testimony today by the Deputy AG, Rosenstein also said that he would not consider firing Mueller. So, that should lay that hoohah to rest. It doesn't, of course, preclude Trump's lawyers from filing suit to have him dismissed for various reasons that have been tossed around, but I doubt that would do anything but waste everybody's time.

Sessions refused to answer (as expected) any question that touched on what he and Trump discussed, and when asked by Dianne Feinstein why he wrote the recommendation letter to fire Comey (which Trump later said he didn't use as a reason to fire him), and he wouldn't answer, she asked why he could answer the question that he did write the recommendation letter but not why. Of course, he didn't answer.

Senator Rubio asked him if there were tapes would there also be an obligation to preserve those recorded conversations. He said he didn't know! He "believes so." He's the effing Attorney General. Throughout the entire testimony, I got the impression that he doesn't know an awful lot - that he's totally unfit for the job, and as incurious as his boss. It was brought out two or three times that he never sought any information on what the Russians might be doing to interfere with US elections. That has been a point made about Trump himself in both Comey's testimony and today's...that by their actions they don't seem to have any appreciation for the seriousness of the accusations against Russia and the future of our elections.

Both Senators Wyden and Harris jumped on Sessions with both feet. Harris had him so stressed he actually admitted that the rapid fire questions were making him nervous. Wyden  started in immediately complaining about stonewalling and refusing to answer questions before Congress as being unacceptable. That got Sessions' little fists clenching. Any time anyone made a hint that impuned his honor or integrity he got mad. Otherwise, he really didn't have anything to say. A lot of inability to recall and refusal to answer because he needed to - in his words - protect Trump's right to invoke executive privilege. As one senator pointed out, Trump hasn't done that, so why couldn't Sessions answer? He just repeated he was protecting Trump's rights. I think these guys who are refusing to answer the committee's questions are just afraid that whatever they say, Trump will turn up on TV saying the opposite. Senator Heinrich was especially stern and accusative, saying Sessions is obstructing the investigation and his "silence speaks volumes."

Sessions was asked and gave no answer a couple of times to having it pointed out that if the reasons mentioned in Rosenstein's memo for firing Comey were actually true - namely, performance issues, why didn't either Rosenstein or Sessions ever have a talk with him about needing to shape up?

Maine Independent Senator  Angus King (whom I find myself liking in these hearings), as well as a couple of the Democrat Senators, asked Sessions for the legal basis for why he was not answering, and never got an answer. Probably because there isn't one, since Trump didn't invoke executive privilege regarding his conversations. I wonder why. That put Sessions in a really bad spot. Oh yeah, Trump is a dick and doesn't mind throwing everybody under the bus. Sessions kept saying over and over that there's a long-standing policy at the DOJ not to talk about private conversations. I was watching the hearing through NPR, and a gentleman commenting afterward who said he spent years in the DOJ said he never heard of anything like that.

When Senator Harris took her turn, she asked him specifically what was this long-standing policy he kept referring to and whether it was written down anywhere. He says he "thinks" it is. She then asked him, knowing that he would be asked these questions, did he not have a look at that policy so he could be prepared to quote it? No answer. He kept trying to drag out any answers to her, and she kept trying to get through more (each Senator was allotted five minutes), which is when he complained that she was making him nervous. He wouldn't even answer a question by Senator Reed whether he felt misled by Trump going on TV, after the official excuse for hiring Comey, and contradicting Sessions and Rosenstein by saying he fired him because of "this Russia thing." Sessions claimed he couldn't answer because he was - again - protecting Trump's rights. Really? The question was how did it make Sessions feel. Did he need to ask Trump? Probably.

In the end, I think it was Senator Reed that blew Sessions' testimony to pieces by calmly reading quotes from Sessions on Fox News during the campaign about Comey's handling of the Clinton email fiasco. At that time, Sessions was saying that Comey was doing the right thing and praising him for how he was handling it. And now, during all this questioning by all these Senators as to his reasons for recommending firing Comey, he was saying exactly the opposite. When Reed's five minutes were up, Sessions was sitting there with his mouth hanging open.

More on this when I've read other accounts and analyses...

If you missed it, you can watch the testimony here.

...but hey, do what you want...you will anyway. P.S. One thing I didn't point out is that Sessions said he was not in violation of his recusal in offering the president a recommendation to fire Comey because his recusal was specific to the Trump campaign-Russian government collusion investigation, and the firing of Comey was for bad performance of his duties. I think that's an acceptable answer. I don't think that's why they fired Comey, but I don't think Sessions was involved in any collusion. I could be wrong, but he seems too hapless to me to have been in on something like that - at least with his knowledge.

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