Two Big Stories About Trump Administration Ties to Russia Dropped Last Night

1. Adam Entous, Ellen Nakashima, and Greg Miller at the Washington Post: Sessions Met with Russian Envoy Twice Last Year, Encounters He Later Did Not Disclose.
Then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) spoke twice last year with Russia's ambassador to the United States, Justice Department officials said, encounters he did not disclose when asked about possible contacts between members of President Trump's campaign and representatives of Moscow during Sessions's confirmation hearing to become attorney general.

One of the meetings was a private conversation between Sessions and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that took place in September in the senator's office, at the height of what U.S. intelligence officials say was a Russian cyber campaign to upend the U.S. presidential race.

...When Sessions spoke with Kislyak in July and September, the senator was a senior member of the influential Armed Services Committee as well as one of Trump's top foreign policy advisers. Sessions played a prominent role supporting Trump on the stump after formally joining the campaign in February 2016.

At his Jan. 10 Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing, Sessions was asked by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) what he would do if he learned of any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of the 2016 campaign.

"I'm not aware of any of those activities," he responded. He added: "I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians."

...In January, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) asked Sessions for answers to written questions. "Several of the President-elect's nominees or senior advisers have Russian ties. Have you been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election, either before or after election day?" Leahy wrote.

Sessions responded with one word: "No."
Okay. A few things: First of all, Sessions did not merely fail to disclose these meetings; he lied under oath about them. And he did so by volunteering information in response to a question that did not directly ask if he'd had such meetings.

Secondly, the already-ubiquitous argument that it's routine for Senators to meet with ambassadors is some bullshit. Senator Claire McCaskill‏ tweeted this morning: "I've been on the Armed Services Com for 10 years. No call or meeting w/Russian ambassador. Ever. Ambassadors call members of Foreign Rel Com."

Further, Sergey Kislyak (who was also the person Michael Flynn had called and was a VIP at Trump's first foreign policy speech last year) is not just a Russian ambassador; "he was Russia's 'top spy recruiter' in D.C." Sessions met with him once during the Republican National Convention in July, and again in his Senate office in September.

As a result of this reporting, Democrats—including Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Elijah Cummings, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, among others—have called on Sessions to resign. And they are absolutely correct. Sessions is now saying he will recuse himself from Russia investigations if it's "appropriate," but recusal is not enough at this point. Sessions lied under oath; he is unfit to lead the Justice Department.

And he didn't lie under oath about any old thing. He lied about something potentially treasonous.

* * *

2. Matthew Rosenberg, Adam Goldman, and Michael S. Schmidt at the New York Times: Obama Administration Rushed to Preserve Intelligence of Russian Election Hacking.
In the Obama administration's last days, some White House officials scrambled to spread information about Russian efforts to undermine the presidential election — and about possible contacts between associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump and Russians — across the government. Former American officials say they had two aims: to ensure that such meddling isn't duplicated in future American or European elections, and to leave a clear trail of intelligence for government investigators.

American allies, including the British and the Dutch, had provided information describing meetings in European cities between Russian officials — and others close to Russia's president, Vladimir V. Putin — and associates of President-elect Trump, according to three former American officials who requested anonymity in discussing classified intelligence.

Separately, American intelligence agencies had intercepted communications of Russian officials, some of them within the Kremlin, discussing contacts with Trump associates.

...Mr. Trump has denied that his campaign had any contact with Russian officials, and at one point he openly suggested that American spy agencies had cooked up intelligence suggesting that the Russian government had tried to meddle in the presidential election. Mr. Trump has accused the Obama administration of hyping the Russia story line as a way to discredit his new administration.

At the Obama White House, Mr. Trump's statements stoked fears among some that intelligence could be covered up or destroyed — or its sources exposed — once power changed hands. What followed was a push to preserve the intelligence that underscored the deep anxiety with which the White House and American intelligence agencies had come to view the threat from Moscow.
At the link, there are further details about the scramble to create an information trail as Inauguration Day approached.

One of the big reveals here is that U.S. intelligence agencies are (or were) in possession of recordings of Russian officials "discussing contacts with Trump associates." That is going to make it very difficult for those Trump associates to deny that they were talking to the Russians.

* * *

So, this is where we are: Trump's first National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, had to resign because he lied about conversations with Russian ambassador and asset recruiter Sergey Kislyak. Now Trump's Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, is being called on to resign because he lied under oath about conversations with Kislyak.

And these are two of only a number of Trump campaign and/or administration staff who have close ties to Russia, including former campaign manager Paul Manafort, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, advisor Roger Stone, and advisor Carter Page.

Because of Sessions' contacts with Kislyak, Trump nominating him for Attorney General might just have been Trump's biggest tactical error yet—because now there is a decent chance that he will be forced to recuse himself from investigations into the administration's ties to Russia, which leaves the door open for an independent investigator.

Bad news for Trump; good news for us.

Well, as good as any news can be when your president is a traitorous authoritarian who only cares about "law and order" as he can use it to harm marginalized people, while he and his coterie of vandals thumb their noses at both law and decency.

Oh, and in other news...

And this is what Donald Trump was tweeting about this morning:

Meanwhile, the GOP leadership remains silent, or actually has the temerity to defend this betrayal to the nation.

My entire life, I have had to listen to narratives about how Republicans are the "Real Americans." I have had to listen to Republicans call me a traitor for supporting Democrats, for protesting war, for marrying an immigrant. I have seen pick-up trucks drive by my house sporting bumper sticks reading "Liberal Hunting License," and fielded death threats from self-identified Republicans because I am a progressive writer.

I have watched John Kerry, a war hero, be diminished as a coward by men who avoided service. I have watched Barack Obama, our first Black president, be subjected to delegitimizing tactics on the basis of his race by people who believe only white people can be truly American. I have watched Hillary Clinton, a woman who has given her life to public service, accused of being careless with classified information by people who now tolerate Russian meddling to destroy the core of our democracy.

All my years have been spent listening to Republicans tell me how it is they who are the great patriots of this nation. That people like me would see America brought to its knees with our capitulation.

Yet now, in this moment, in the middle of a profound and urgent national crisis, with evidence of foreign election meddling and a president whose own fealty to this nation is deeply and increasingly suspect, the Great Patriots of the Republican Party are nowhere to be found.

We see you.

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