Sessions, Good Soldier, Says Nothing About Trump

Attorney General Plays A Particularly Irritating Game Of Dodgeball With The Senate Intelligence Committee For 2 1/2 Hours

Attorney General Jeff Sessions insisted “I am not stonewalling”, while he repeatedly said he couldn’t recall any details about interactions with Russian Ambassador Kislyak, and wouldn’t answer any questions at all relating to President Trump, citing “long-held” Justice Department protocols which might or might not be written down, but in any case he was unable to quote.

Sessions did confirm 2 things:

•Ex FBI Director James Comey’s account of an uncomfortable one-on-one meeting Oval Office meeting with Trump, and the fact that Sessions lingered before leaving the room.

•And that Comey came to him the next day to express his uneasiness.

However, Sessions reacted angrily to Comey’s more inflammatory statement: that the FBI knew of issues that still cannot be discussed publicly, and would’ve made Sessions’ continued participation in the Russia investigation “problematic.” Sessions denounced that kind of thing as “secret innuendo” (a fancy way of saying “fake news”?) He also tried to turn the tables on his former Senate colleagues, saying (yelling, at times), that their questioning his character and even bringing up the possibility of collusion is “an appalling and detestable lie.”

He also explained misstatements he made about Russian contacts when answering questions from Senator Al Franken during his confirmation hearing had nothing to do with why he recused himself from the Russia investigation. He said he’d decided to recuse himself long before, and considered himself recused long before he announced it. As with all matters Trump, he refused to answer whether Trump (as widely reported) is angry at him for recusing himself. He also explained his answer to Franken was not actually a misstatement. Rather, a confused answer to a “rambling question” from the Senator.

We found Sessions’ exchange with Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island noteworthy. In it Reed simply asks why Sessions repeatedly praised Comey when he was going after Hillary Clinton, but then quickly reversed himself when it came time to fire him? We’re sharing it here:

Trump Says Health Care Bill Is “Mean”

According sources quoted by the AP, in a meeting with Republican Senators, Trump asked them to be a little more “generous” in their version of the health care bill. The big problem here being he previously celebrated the House’s austere version in the Rose Garden with a long speech in which he said it was “a great plan.”

Still, to those of you who closely follow Trump’s Tweets, the most recent comments will come as no surprise. We reported to you a couple of weeks ago about a Tweet which came on a particularly frenzied day so received surprisingly little attention. We’ll bring it to you again here:

Our question is: does Trump really want to “take care of the people” or has he simply realized the Republican majority in congress will be in jeopardy if it passes a wildly unpopular plan?

Vox’s terrific health care reporter, Sarah Kliff, points out the Trump Administration wants so badly to make Obamacare look like it’s falling apart, it is providing bad information to the public, including maps showing either wrong or misleading data.

Russian Hacking of Voting Systems Much More Widespread Than Reported Until Now

The source of this extensive investigative report is Bloomberg. It says Russian hackers messed around in “almost twice as many states as previously reported.” And even “tried to delete or alter voter data.”

Of course, radical right wing media seized not on those alarming facts, but another aspect of the Bloomberg report: that the White House used a back channel with the Russians to tell them to back off. So their takeaway is since Obama had his own back-channel to Russia, it’s really unfair to criticize Jared Kushner for trying to establish the same for Trump.

To which we say: Just, no.

It is completely appropriate for a President to have back channels to communicate privately with other world leaders. It is not appropriate for private citizens to have back channels with foreign governments. What Kushner is accused of trying to do was set up a back channel before Trump was President. That’s why it’s bad. Still, it’s a hard enough distinction to make that articles making false equivalencies like this are likely to have a real impact among die-hard Trump supporters.

200 Democratic Members Of Congress Will Sue Trump Today

The Washington Post reports the suit will be led by Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. It will accuse Trump of violating the Constitution by enriching himself with gifts from overseas leaders. The move follows by one day a similar suit from the Democratic Attorneys-General of Washington, DC and Maryland.

Legal scholars the Post spoke to are split on the possible effectiveness of the newer suit: some say it mirrors multiple suits brought by Republicans against President Obama over health care. Others say it will be hard for participating members of Congress to prove they have “standing”, that is, they have been harmed by the President’s actions.

Part of the goal of both of these suits seems to be to get to the “discovery” phase, where Trump might have to finally divulge his tax returns.

USA Today has a really good piece of investigative reporting that’s tangentially related to this: it finds since Trump’s election, 70% of buyers of Trump properties have used shell companies that do not require them to reveal their names. Prior to Trump’s Presidential run that number was just 4%.

Special Counsel Mueller Apparently Safe, For Now

White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders late yesterday saying: “While the President has every right to [fire Robert Mueller], he has no intention to.”

As we reported, President’s self-appointed “buddy”, and NewsMax CEO, Christopher Ruddy previously mentioned Trump was thinking of firing Mueller.

Separately, Assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (who was filling in for Sessions at a Senate Appropriations hearing) said he would not fire Mueller unless there was “good cause.” The reason Rosenstein was addressing this issue, is if Trump follows federal regulations, he himself could not directly fire Mueller: he would have to order Rosenstein (who appointed Mueller) to do it. Rosenstein added, “If there were not good cause, it wouldn’t matter to me what anybody says.”

Trump Throws His Weight Behind Bipartisan Bill To Protect VA Whisteblowers

This bipartisan bill, (yes you heard right, bipartisan) just passed in the House. One of its main objectives is to protect Veterans Affairs employees who bring misconduct to light.

Trump Tweeted:

We agree, this is great, except…the whole point of it is to encourage leakers. We thought Trump was against leakers. Unless he means only when they leak bad things about him or his people. When they leak things about Hillary, DNC, etc. (and now the VA) they’re GREAT!

Even With All That, This Could Be The Bizarrest, And Saddest Story Of The Day

American college student Otto Warmbier, sentenced last year in North Korea to 15 years of hard labor for stealing a propaganda banner from a hotel, is suddenly back in the U.S. His parents say, however, he is in a coma, and they only found out about his condition from North Korean officials about a week ago. They say North Korean representatives told them their son suffered from botulism some time after his sentencing, was given a sleeping pill, and thereafter fell into a coma.

Adding to the strangeness of the situation, a statement from the U.S. State Department denying former pro basketball star (and Celebrity Apprentice alum) Dennis Rodman had anything to do with his release. Rodman, who’s palled around with Kim Jong-un in the past, arrived in North Korea at the same time as the student was released, leading some media in the U.S. and South Korea to speculate Trump might be using Rodman as a secret back-channel. The State Department  was not amused.