“Russia’s ambassador to Washington told his superiors in Moscow that he discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow, with Jeff Sessions during the 2016 presidential race, contrary to public assertions by the embattled attorney general, according to current and former U.S. officials.
“Ambassador Sergey Kislyak’s accounts of two conversations with Sessions - then a top foreign policy adviser to Republican candidate Donald Trump - were intercepted by U.S. spy agencies, which monitor the communications of senior Russian officials both in the United States and in Russia. Sessions initially failed to disclose his contacts with Kislyak and then said that the meetings were not about the Trump campaign.
“One U.S. official said that Sessions - who testified that he has no recollection of an April encounter - has provided ‘misleading’ statements that are ‘contradicted by other evidence.’”
Possibly, Sergey Kislyak misrepresented the conversations back to Moscow, but at a time when Donald Trump was not expected to win, what would be the purpose of lying? A contemporaneous document is more likely than not to be accurate in these circumstances. It’s also noteworthy that the exchange with Sessions was important enough to merit a report back to the Kremlin. Sessions is sticking by his Judiciary Committee testimony.
The report raises a host of questions:
- Did Trump/Trump allies leak the report in an effort to push Sessions out the door?
- Did Trump antagonists leak the report as a warning shot to Trump and/or Sessions that the noose is tightening?
- Will the Senate demand that Sessions return to address the allegations?
- Is Sessions the subject of an investigation (for untrue statements under oath, for helping to fire FBI Director James B. Comey as part of an effort to obstruct justice)?
- If Sessions can be pressured to testify against Trump, what does he know?
- If Trump does decide to fire Sessions or Sessions finally relents and quits, will the Senate refuse to confirm a Trump flunky as attorney general, especially if he or she does not vow to protect the special counsel at all costs?
- If Sessions is fired or quits and can’t get a replacement to serve, would Trump order Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein (who would then be acting attorney general) to fire special counsel Robert S. Mueller III? Would Rosenstein comply?
- Will any of this spur a robust warning from Republicans to leave Rosenstein in place and allow Mueller to complete his job?
- What other evidence of Russian communications with the Trump team exist, and if there is any, did the Trump team member lie, under oath or otherwise?
It does appear that the report spooked the president, who awoke Saturday morning to deliver another tweetstorm. (Remember when people argued that we shouldn’t report on tweets?) He tweeted, “While all agree the U. S. President has the complete power to pardon, why think of that when only crime so far is LEAKS against us.FAKE NEWS.” He also was back to dredging up Hillary Clinton, his favorite distraction technique. (“What about all of the Clinton ties to Russia, including Podesta Company, Uranium deal, Russian Reset, big dollar speeches etc.”) And he also insisted (falsely) that Donald Trump Jr. had volunteered to hand over his emails in a grand show of transparency.
One wonders how the brand-new communications director Anthony Scaramucci thinks the White House messaging is going. In the space of 24 hours, the president has managed to convince a great number of Americans that there is something so terrible out there that Trump will never allow the Russian investigation to run its course. (The message here is also: The president is panicking.)
Scaramucci might want to keep one thing in mind: At this point in the administration knowingly conveying Trump’s lies or constructing a web of lies to shield the president may land one in a heap of trouble for obstruction of justice, witness intimidation or numerous other charges. He might want to keep contemporaneous notes of his conversations with the president.
Jennifer Rubin is a Washington Post columnist.