Sessions’ Session

Attorney General Appears Before Senate Intelligence Committee In Open Hearing Today, Starting At 2:30pm EDT

Jeff Sessions will be asked old and new questions, including:

•Why Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation in the first place. (Something that’s reportedly infuriated Trump.)

•What explains apparent inconsistencies about Sessions’ contacts with Russians in his confirmation hearing that has never been fully addressed.

•What fired FBI Director James Comey was talking about when he said the FBI was aware Sessions would probably recuse himself two weeks before he did, because “his continued involvement in a Russia-related investigation [would be] “problematic.”

•What role he may have played in the firing of Comey.

•Does Trump have tapes?

•And also, obviously, was Comey’s testimony accurate?

The Washington Post came up with a total of 40 suggested questions for Sessions.

We Play Into The Hands Of Right Wingers Who Want To Bring Up Ridiculous Questions And Raise Paranoia And Suspicion About Whether Mueller Can Be Fair

Newsmax CEO, and Trump friend Christopher Ruddy, who seems to be quoted in almost every personal story about the President and keeps popping up everywhere, told the PBS Newshour Trump is perhaps thinking about firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Mueller was appointed less than a month ago. Ruddy didn’t refer to any personal conversation with the President, only saying “I think it’s pretty clear by what one of his lawyers said on television recently.”

So how seriously is the President considering this?

Mueller has been the target of growing criticism from the far-right, who say he’s got too many conflicts of interest, including having been interviewed by Trump for FBI Director, and curiously, coming from a law firm that’s represented Trump family members. Still others argue since Mueller and Comey are personal friends they are “in cahoots” to bring Trump down. Lawfare points out those arguments lay legal groundwork for the fact that federal regulations stipulate Special Counsels cannot be removed without cause, which includes dereliction of duty and conflict of interest.

And if he follows those regulations, Trump himself could not directly fire Mueller: he would have to order Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (who appointed Mueller) to do it. If Rosenstein chooses not to, and instead resigns, it would go down the line until an Assistant Attorney General was willing to carry out the President’s order. (This is what happened during the Watergate scandal with then-President Nixon.)

Lawfare also points out that in March, Trump signed an executive order determining an order of succession in the Justice Department. It says this could become a big factor too.

The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee suggested if Trump tries to pull something like this, Congress would bring Mueller on as an Independent Counsel, and he’d continue his investigation anyway. (The difference between a Special Counsel and an Independent Counsel, is a Special Counsel reports to the Justice Department, so ultimately the White House, whereas an Independent Counsel reports to Congress.)

Some Republicans in congress started speaking out this morning. South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham stating simply: “There’s no reason to fire Mueller. What’s he done to be fired?”

Trump’s “Travel Ban” Rejected Again, This Time For A Totally Different Reason

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California, which upheld a ruling by a federal judge in Hawaii, focused more narrowly on the powers given to any President regarding restricting foreigners from entering the country. It decided, “There is no finding that present vetting standards are inadequate, and no finding that absent the improved vetting procedures there likely will be harm to our national interests.”

That line of argument is very different than the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia, which took into consideration Trump’s words and intent.

In other words, instead of questioning the motives behind the “travel ban”, the 9th Circuit ruled it doesn’t really fix any problems it says it intends to fix. To quote the court: “[The “travel ban”] does not offer a sufficient justification to suspend the entry of more than 180 million people….” And most damningly: “National security is not a ‘talismanic incantation’ that, once invoked, can support any and all exercise of executive power….”

The Justice Department has already asked the Supreme Court to hear the case.

Here’s The Real Reason Lawsuit Against Trump By Maryland And DC Attorneys-General Is So Important

It could very well lead to the release of Trump’s tax returns.

The Democratic Attorneys-General charge Trump is in violation of the Constitution because he continues to own hotels and other businesses which leverage his power as President to divert customers away from businesses he doesn’t own.

If the Attorneys-General can prove Maryland and DC have been hurt financially because of Trump’s influence, they should at least be able to establish standing to bring the suit in the first place. And that would lead to requests for Trump’s tax returns. In fact, both the Maryland Attorney General, and the AG for DC say if the lawsuit progresses to the discovery phase, they will definitely seek the president’s tax returns to gauge the extent of his business dealings.

Just last week, Trump’s Justice Department said it’s determined it’s fine for Trump’s businesses to take money from overseas companies and governments.

Russia: Biggest Anti-Government Demonstrations In Years Lead To Hundreds Of Arrests

Russian opposition leader Alexy Navalny has been sentenced to 30 days in jail for violating Russia’s strict laws on public protests. That news came just hours after he was arrested. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people were arrested across the country, 825 in Moscow alone, mainly for illegally taking part in demonstrations.

While not a direct repudiation of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Navalny called on people to take to the streets as an outcry against widespread government corruption.

Navalny retained his sense of humor, announcing his detention with this Tweet (in Russian):

Loosely translated (by us): “30 days. Not only have they plundered the whole country, they’re also going to make me miss the Depeche Mode concert .”

Newly Elected Montana Congressman Won’t Get Jail For Physically Attacking Reporter

Another bizarre twist at Republican Greg Gianforte’s sentencing: Judge Rick West wanted the sentence to be 4 days in jail, which would then be converted to 2 days in a work program. However, upon learning work programs are not an option for anyone convicted of assault, so Gianforte would’ve actually had to spend 4 days in jail, the judge changed his sentence to 20 hours of anger management, 40 hours of community service, and a $385 fine.

The reporter he attacked, the Guardian’s Ben Jacobs, said he’s confident Gianforte will now “be a strong advocate for the free press” on Capitol Hill.

This Story Screams “Distraction”…And Our Stated Mission Is To Steer Clear of Distractions…But We’re Going To Do It Anyway

Donald Trump held the first full cabinet meeting of his Presidency, and transformed a photo op ahead of the session into something completely off-the-wall, yet precisely what we’ve come to expect. And that’s why, actually, it’s not a distraction: rather a revealing snapshot into what it’s like to work for and with Trump.

The President started off by praising himself, saying he is Making America Great Again “at a much faster pace than anyone thought.” He continued, “I will say that never has there been a President, with few exceptions—in the case of FDR he had a major depression to handle—who’s passed more legislation, who’s done more things than what we’ve done.” The Washington Post’s glorious Trump truth-watcher Philip Bump examines this statement extensively, with great charts and graphs.  But in short, Trump is sort of correct, if you you start “treating all passed legislation as equal and counting executive orders as significant accomplishments.”  The number of executive orders are also entirely up to him. (And we all know by now, how much he likes to make a show of signing things.)

You can watch Trump’s self-praise here:

He then sat, smiling, as his cabinet members went around the room heaping praise upon him. The most obsequious coming from Chief of Staff Rence Preibus who famously (yes, already!) exclaimed: “We thank you for the opportunity and the blessing to serve your agenda.”

This story was somewhat misrepresented by the media: Trump did not ask for his cabinet members to praise him. (For instance, while this New York Times story is accurate, the headline, “Trump’s Cabinet, With A Prod, Extols the ‘Blessing’ of Serving Him,” isn’t, exactly.) He simply asked that they go around the room, introduce themselves, and “name their position.” (Which in itself is a pretty strange request. It reminded me of when I first started out in the news business and didn’t always know who a certain congressman or cabinet member was, and my very uncompassionate boss would refuse to tell me and instead yell at me: “These are very famous people!” (He was right, BTW.))

Perhaps Trump, in praising himself, was expressing “hope” that others would join in as the introductions went around the room? Or perhaps his cabinet has caught on to “best practices” of communicating with the President. Regardless, first up was the always wily Vice President, Mike Pence. He had the notion to kick off a praise-a-thon, and the other cabinet members quickly picked up on it.

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