It’s now pretty much a major part of Donald Trump lore that somehow Jeff Sessions “cheated” him out of his real choice for attorney general because he says that if he’d known that Sessions was going to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, he’d have picked someone else for the job.
“Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else,” Trump told the New York Times in June.
“Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself, which frankly I think is very unfair to the president,” Trump later added. “How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.’ It’s extremely unfair—and that’s a mild word—to the president.”
And back in January we had this report:
A report from the New York Times cited two sources that revealed the president told his lawyers they had to stop Sessions from recusing himself. In wake of the announcement from Sessions, the president was reportedly irate and considering ways he could get rid of Sessions.
White House counsel Don McGahn took over the responsibility and talked to Sessions about staying involved in the investigation. It didn’t work. White House aides confirmed that Trump blew up at McGhan, saying, that “he needed his attorney general to protect him.”
Trump then demanded, “Where’s my Roy Cohn?” His personal lawyer and notorious “Trump fixer,” who also has a history as a red-baiting lawyer who worked for Sen. Joe McCarthy in the 1950s.
But of course, the scenario that Trump lays out—that Sessions should have already known that he would need to recuse himself—is actually flat-out impossible.
More recently, we’ve read reports that Trump tried to get Sessions to “un-recuse” himself.
Very early into the Trump presidency, Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the investigation into Russian election interference and the Trump campaign. The recusal was not, by ordinary standards, a remotely close call. Government officials don’t conduct or oversee investigations that might implicate themselves. Sessions was not only involved in the Trump campaign, he also lied to Congress about his dealings with Russians.
Trump has repeatedly expressed his resentment at Sessions. The New York Times reports that, following the recusal, Trump asked Sessions to un-recuse himself, and berated him for refusing to do so. Trump has reportedly told people he wants a loyalist overseeing the investigation, and “argued that Eric H. Holder Jr., President Barack Obama’s first attorney general, would never have recused himself from a case that threatened to tarnish Mr. Obama.” While they can be powerful evidence on Fox News, imaginary Obama crimes are not actually binding legal precedent.
First off, Eric Holder was not an adviser on any of President Obama’s campaigns, so there would never have been a need for him to recuse himself on any investigation of his campaigns. Secondly, Holder actually did recuse himself from several investigations.
Holder recused himself on the seizing of phone records from the AP in an investigation of classified leaks, because he himself was a potential suspect in that case since he had a high enough clearance to have been a source of the leak.
Attorney General Eric Holder recused himself from the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) decision to secretly seize two months of phone records of Associated Press journalists.
Holder said he recused himself early on in the DOJ’s investigation of what he described as some of the most serious leaks from government officials that jeopardized national security. Deputy Attorney General James Cole signed off on the subpoena authorizing the seizure of the AP’s phone records last year.
Holder also recused himself in the investigation of Roger Clemens, largely because he had been part of a law firm linked to Clemens.
Attorney General Eric Holder has recused himself from all legal matters involving Roger Clemens, who may face perjury charges for lying about his alleged steroid use to Congress, reports the New York Daily News.
Before his appointment, Holder was a partner at Covington and Burling, the Washington law firm that also employs Lanny Breuer, who was one of Clemens’ attorneys when the pitcher testified before Congress last year.
Just for the record, before he was selected as special counsel, Robert Mueller had been part of a law firm linked to Jared Kushner.
Justice Department ethics experts have decided Robert Mueller can proceed as the special counsel leading the investigation into the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election, despite his former law firm’s representing President Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
The law firm, WilmerHale, also represents Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who has been at the heart of questions over whether Trump’s campaign colluded with the Russians.
Mueller had no involvement in any work done for the three, according to Bruce Berman, a spokesman for the law firm.
Trump tends to ignore this fact when he’s ranting about “13 Angry Democrats and people who worked for Obama for 8 years” coming after him in a “Witch Hunt.” Besides, Mueller was appointed by and worked for George W. Bush for eight years as FBI director. He stayed on for Obama’s first four years until he was replaced by James Comey in 2013.
The bottom line is that Trump’s scenario of how Sessions should have come to him to warn him that he was going to be recused on the Russia investigation is simply not possible.
Trump picked Sessions as his nominee for attorney general in November 2016, right after the election. At that point in time the Trump-Russia investigation was just starting, and it was entirely classified within the DOJ.
Within hours of opening an investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia in the summer of 2016, the F.B.I. dispatched a pair of agents to London on a mission so secretive that all but a handful of officials were kept in the dark.
Their assignment, which has not been previously reported, was to meet the Australian ambassador, who had evidence that one of Donald J. Trump’s advisers knew in advance about Russian election meddling. After tense deliberations between Washington and Canberra, top Australian officials broke with diplomatic protocol and allowed the ambassador, Alexander Downer, to sit for an F.B.I. interview to describe his meeting with the campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos.
The agents summarized their highly unusual interview and sent word to Washington on Aug. 2, 2016, two days after the investigation was opened. Their report helped provide the foundation for a case that, a year ago Thursday, became the special counsel investigation. But at the time, a small group of F.B.I. officials knew it by its code name: Crossfire Hurricane.
There’s no way that Sessions would have been aware of this investigation when he accepted the nomination. On the other hand, he was, in fact, aware of George Papadopoulos talking to Russian sources and the fact that he had been told the Russians had “thousands of Hillary’s” emails, because he himself told Papadopoulos to “find out everything he could” about it.
Papadopoulos, according to this new acquaintance, said that Sessions was well aware of the contact between Papadopoulos and Joseph Mifsud, an academic from Malta with high-level connections in Russia. Papadopoulos’ indictment revealed that Mifsud had told Papadopoulos that the Russians had “‘dirt’ on then-candidate Hillary Clinton in the form of ‘thousands of emails.’”
Jason Wilson, a computer engineer who lives in Chicago, told ThinkProgress that Papadopoulos said during their conversation that “Sessions encouraged me” to find out anything he could about the hacked Hillary Clinton emails that Mifsud had mentioned.
During his confirmation hearings on January 10, 2017, Sessions said he doesn’t know “any Trump surrogates who were in contact with the Russians,” ignoring the question he was asked by Sen. Al Franken which was: “What would you do if you discover surrogates had coordinated with Russians?”
Apparently the true answer to the question was, “Nothing.”
As a matter of fact Sessions had met Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in April at the Mayflower Hotel during a backstage reception before Trump’s big foreign policy speech. Kislyak had been specifically invited, and had sat in the front row during the speech. He’d met him a second time in July during the Republican National Convention which Sessions, along with Carter Page and JD Gordon, had attended as a Trump surrogates during a event sponsored by the Heritage Foundation. And lastly he met him again in September in his private Senate offices where they’d argued over Russian sanctions in reaction to the annexation of Crimea.
Three days later on January 13, James Comey gave a closed door classified briefing to Congress and repeatedly refused to confirm whether there was an investigation into Russia and the Trump campaign.
Embattled FBI director James Comey has refused to clarify whether his organization is investigating Donald Trump’s ties to Russia in a closed briefing on Friday for members of Congress, angering legislators who recall his high-profile interjections about Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign, the Guardian has learned.
Comey’s lack of candor in a classified setting, intended to brief members on the intelligence agencies’ assessment that Russia interfered in the election to benefit Trump, follows a public rebuff this week to senators seeking clarification.In that earlier hearing, Comey said he would “never comment” on a potential FBI investigation “in an open forum like this”, raising expectations among some attendees of Friday’s briefing that Comey would put the issue to rest in a classified setting.
But according to sources attending the closed-door Friday morning meeting, that was not the case. As such, frustration with Comey was bipartisan and heated, adding to intense pressure on the director of the FBI, whose conduct in the 2016 election itself is now being investigated by an independent US justice department watchdog.
Democrats came out of that briefing hopping mad, particularly Rep. Maxine Waters.
On January 23 Mike Pence went on Meet the Press and claimed that national security adviser Michael Flynn had told him that he hadn’t talked to Russian Ambassador Kislyak about sanctions during the transition—even though he had, and the FBI knew it. The FBI interviewed Flynn about this the next day and the lied about it to them.
Michael Flynn maintained on Monday that he “crossed no lines” in his December phone call with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, in what was his most detailed account of the call.
In an interview with the Daily Caller on Monday, which was published the following day, Flynn said his call with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak “wasn’t about sanctions. It was about the 35 guys who were thrown out.”
“So that’s what it turned out to be. It was basically, ‘Look, I know this happened. We’ll review everything.’ I never said anything such as, ‘We’re going to review sanctions,’ or anything like that,” he said.
Flynn also claimed to them and on his SF-86 forms that he didn’t take any foreign money from Russia or Turkey, but he did.
The day after that was when then acting Attorney General Sally Yates went directly to White House counsel Don McGhan and said there were big problems with Flynn, that he’d lied to VP Pence and that he was vulnerable to being “blackmailed by the Russians.” McGahn actually called Yates back the next day to have her explain why the DOJ would care if Flynn lied to Pence. The real answer was because they were investigating Russian links to the campaign, but she couldn’t tell him that—not yet.
That same day, January 27, was when the FBI also interviewed Trump adviser George Papadopoulos and he also lied to them, claiming that his contacts with Mifsud and Russians linked to the Kremlin took place “before the campaign,” when in fact Sessions was well aware of them and they had been personally authorized by Trump himself.
George Papadopoulos has already pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his meeting with a Kremlin-linked Russian academic who promised “thousands of emails” that would hurt the Clinton campaign, but the just-reported comments from Politico would be the first time Papadadoulos’s work had a direct link to Trump himself, rather than lower-level campaign staffers.
Marianna Kakaounaki, an investigative reporter for the Greek newspaper Kathimerini, said Papadopoulos told her that Trump called him personally after he was hired to the campaign in March 2016. Trump later met with Papadopoulos one-on-one, when the aide told Trump about his ongoing efforts to set up a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kakaounaki said.
Four days after that, on January 31, Trump fired Yates, supposedly for refusing to implement his Muslim ban. For a time, this made Dana Boente the acting attorney general.
So at the time that Franken asked the question it was considered hypothetical. But the existence of an investigation had not been verified and Sessions was ultimately confirmed by the Senate on February 8.
Yes, there was an investigation, but Sessions himself couldn’t possibly known about it until after he was confirmed as the new attorney general.
Michaal Flynn was ultimately fired five days later on February 13, after the Washington Post revealed that he’d lied to Pence. The day after Flynn was fired was when Trump got Comey alone in the Oval office and asked for “loyalty” and for him to “let the Flynn thing go,” which was clearly related to the previous warnings he had received from Yates.
Sessions recused himself on March 4, more than a month after he was confirmed.
Comey didn’t offer any confirmation of the Russia investigation until over 10 days later on March 15, when he had yet another closed door classified briefing with Sens. Grassley, Feinstein, and Warner because Grassley had threatened to hold up the nomination of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. But as that briefing was still classified, they couldn’t say anything about it.
FBI Director James Comey briefed a group of top senators Wednesday amid growing demands that he clarify if the bureau is investigating any contacts between Moscow and the Trump campaign.
Comey met in a closed-door session with Sens. Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) — the chairman and top Democrat, respectively, of the Judiciary Committee — as well as Sen. Mark Warner (Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Senators were tightlipped leaving the meeting, offering no details on what, if any, answers they received from the FBI director.
Another five days later—two weeks after Sessions’ recusal—on March 20, Comey finally revealed that the FBI was investigating Russia and the Trump campaign.
The directors of the FBI and National Security Agency gave more details Monday on the extent of Russian influence in the 2016 U.S. election, confirming an open FBI investigation into Moscow’s alleged interference and refuting President Donald Trump’s explosive claim that Trump Tower was wiretapped.
FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Michael Rogers testified before the House Intelligence Committee in an extraordinary public hearing amid its ongoing investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the contest. Comey confirmed for the first time that the FBI is investigating Russia’s influence on the 2016 U.S. election, including any “links” between Moscow and Trump campaign officials.
The fact is that Sessions’ only option other than recusing himself would have been to resign on March 4, after he had been made aware of the Russia investigation and the fact that it involved any links or contact with the campaign. This was particularly true since Sessions himself had approved of Papadopoulos’ contacts and even encouraged them, as well as meeting Ambassador Kislyak himself at least three separate times.
There was no point before his confirmation when he could have told Trump that he was going to recuse himself. He frankly had no idea at the time that his lies about his own Russian contacts were so obvious, or just how seriously the Department of Justice was taking the election intervention by the Russians.
Once again, Trump is full of it.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.