*The Russian “flap”,
as AG Jeff Sessions referred to it, only gets bigger. The AG has now recused himself from the investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, because he has been caught lying about meeting with the Russian ambassador. The Dems are demanding that he return to committee and, under oath, explain more fully his false answers to questions posed to him. Congresswoman Pelosi is calling for Session’s resignation, while other Dems are discussing possible charges of perjury. Additionally, other members of the administration are owning up to having lied about meeting with Russian officials or agents during the campaign. This whole thing stinks to high heaven, with the most plausible explanation being that Trump owes the Russians lots of money and/or that they have embarrassing or incriminating info on him. This suspicion is, of course, strengthened by Trump’s refusal to released his tax returns – and the pressure to do so is only increasing.
Here are excerpts from a Washington Post article:
In the most abstract sense, there is nothing noteworthy about a government official meeting with an ambassador from a foreign country. When such an interaction becomes important is when that official is an ally of a presidential campaign that’s got a complex set of possibly inappropriate relationships with other representatives of that ambassador’s country — and when that official while under oath says he did not have communications with representatives of that country.
What we’re going to endeavor to do here is to parse out that complex set of relationships, using the information we have at hand. In this case, as you’ve hopefully ascertained, the country at issue is Russia and the campaign is that of President Trump. The official, of course, is Attorney General Jeff Sessions. And the ambassador is, at this point, the linchpin of a lot of the interactions between Trump and the rest of his team.
We’ll consider three Russian entities.
- Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Russia’s man in Washington.
- The Russian government. Kislyak is part of this government, of course, but we’ll use this as a shorthand for interactions with President Vladimir Putin or other government agencies (who may or may not be known). Included here is RT, the Russia-backed and -based television network.
- Russian business interests. This encompasses everything from Rosneft, the Russian oil giant, to sketchy Russian oligarchs.
As for the American side, let’s start at the top and move outward through Trump’s network.
(Sorry about the over-size illustration!)
Donald Trump, president. Trump’s connections to Russian business interests are murky, thanks to his decision not to release his tax returns during the campaign. We know that the Miss Universe pageant was hosted in Moscow when Trump owned it and that he earned millions of dollars for doing so. We know, too, that he’s repeatedly explored real estate deals in the country. It’s not clear whether Trump has met Kislyak, though the ambassador attended a foreign policy speech Trump gave last spring and the reception that preceded it. We know now that Trump has been in communication with Putin — but he also claimed to have been in contact with representatives of the Russian president (and Putin himself) before the campaign.
Jeff Sessions, attorney general. Sessions’s relationship with Kislyak is well-established by now. This is a good point at which to note, though, that the existence of that relationship does not in any way imply wrongdoing by Sessions. It’s just part of the network we’re establishing.
Paul Manafort, former campaign manager. Manafort’s links to Russian interests are well established. New revelations that emerged during the campaign prompted Trump to demand Manafort’s resignation. Manafort is one of the Trump campaign staffers who reportedly made contact with Russian interests during the campaign
Rex Tillerson, secretary of state. Before he was confirmed to serve as the head of the State Department, even Republicans questioned Tillerson’s relationship to Putin. As the head of ExxonMobil, Tillerson helped negotiate a massive agreement between the Russian government and ExxonMobil-Rosneft, a partnership between the two companies. Tillerson was subsequently awarded the “Order of Friendship” by Putin.”
*Today’s tweet storm:
It’s doubtful that the administration will succeed at sweeping the above subject under the rug, although The Donald’s tweet storm of today is clearly intended to “change the subject”. A series of Trump tweets accuses Obama of wire taps. Again, the Washington Post:
President Trump on Saturday angrily accused former president Barack Obama of orchestrating a “Nixon/Watergate” plot to tap the phones at his Trump Tower headquarters last fall in the run-up to the election.
Citing no evidence to support his explosive allegation, Trump said in a series of five tweets sent Saturday morning that Obama was “wire tapping” his New York offices before the election in a move he compared to McCarthyism. “Bad (or sick) guy!” he said of his predecessor, adding that the surveillance resulted in “nothing found.”
Officials at the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice declined to comment. Trump has been feuding with the intelligence community since before he took office, convinced that career officers as well as holdovers from the Obama administration have been trying to sabotage his presidency. He has ordered internal inquiries to find who leaked sensitive information regarding communications during the campaign between Russian officials and his campaign associates and allies, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions and ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Some current and former intelligence officials cast doubt on Trump’s assertion. “It’s highly unlikely there was a wiretap,” said one former senior intelligence official familiar with surveillance law who spoke candidly on the condition of anonymity. The former official continued: “It seems unthinkable. If that were the case by some chance, that means that a federal judge would have found that there was either probable cause that he had committed a crime or was an agent of a foreign power.” A wiretap cannot be directed at a U.S. facility, the official said, without finding probable cause that the phone lines or Internet addresses were being used by agents of a foreign power — or by someone spying for or acting on behalf of a foreign government. “You can’t just go around and tap buildings,” the official said. Trump sent the tweets from Palm Beach, Fla., where he is vacationing this weekend at his private Mar-a-Lago estate. It has long been his practice to stir up new controversies to deflect attention from a damaging news cycle, such as the one in recent days about Sessions and Russia. Trump’s tweets took numerous top White House aides by surprise, according to a second White House official who was not authorized to speak publicly. Saturday was expected to be a “down day, pretty quiet,” this official said, and there was little, if any, attempt to coordinate the president’s message on the wiretapping allegations.
Here are Trump’s tweets, in the order they were sent (posted between 4:35 and 5:02 AM):
“Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!”
“Just out: The same Russian Ambassador that met Jeff Sessions visited the Obama White House 22 times, and 4 times last year alone.”
“Is it legal for a sitting President to be “wire tapping” a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!”
“I’d bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!”
“How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!”
“This morning Trump went berserk, tweeting a series of bizarre accusations charging that former president Barack Obama orchestrated a “Nixon/Watergate” plot to tap the phones at his Trump Tower headquarters last fall in the run-up to the election. Citing no evidence, he said the former president was a “Bad (or sick) guy!” Folks, we’ve got a huge problem on our hands. Either:
1. Trump is more nuts than we suspected — a true paranoid.
2. Or he’s correct, in which case there’s probable cause that he committed treason. No president can order a wiretap. For federal agents to obtain a wiretap on Trump’s phone conversations, the Justice Department would first have had to convince a federal judge that it had gathered sufficient evidence that there was probable cause to believe that Trump had committed a serious crime or was an agent of a foreign power, depending on whether it was a criminal or foreign intelligence wiretap.
3. Or Trump’s outburst was triggered by a commentary on Breitbart News reporting an assertion Thursday night by rightwing talk-radio host Mark Levin suggesting Obama and his administration used “police state” tactics last fall to monitor the Trump team’s dealings with Russian operatives. If this was the source of Trump’s ravings this morning, we’ve got a president willing to put the prestige and power of his office behind a baseless claim emanating from rightwing purveyors of lies.
So there you have it — either he’s paranoid, he likely committed treason, or he’s making judgments based on rightwing crackpots. Each of them is as worrying as the other.”