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Curious Case of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Russian Amnesia

June 14, 2017

Michael Flynn used the same defensive tactic just trotted out by US Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a curiously transmissible case of Russian Amnesia, or perhaps Russian Dementia. Jeff Sessions testified before Congress this week in his opening statements that he hadn’t had contact with Russian Ambassador Kislyak, then upon further questioning admitted to seeing him at a hotel, and then when questioned about whether he had met him two or three times, Sessions argued that information had been “leaked” and should have remained in a closed session.

In his opening statements, Jeff Sessions said he did not meet with Russian officials:

“I did not have any private meetings, nor do I recall any conversations with any Russian officials at the Mayflower Hotel,” Sessions said in his opening statement. “I did not attend any meetings at that event. Prior to the speech, I attended a reception with my staff that included at least two dozen people and President Trump. Though I do recall several conversations I had during that pre-speech reception, I do not have any recollection of meeting or talking to the Russian ambassador or any other Russian officials.

“If any brief interaction occurred in passing with the Russian ambassador during that reception, I do not remember it,” he continued. “After the speech, I was interviewed by the news media, which had gathered as I remember in a different room, and then I left the hotel.”

He later said during questioning from senators that he could have “possibly” had a meeting with Kislyak at the Mayflower but that he did not recall it. Sessions also said he went to the Mayflower that day not knowing that Kislyak would be there.

When Senator John McCain asked Sessions pointedly about his interactions with Russia, namely the security issues after the US government found evidence of election hacking the summer of 2016, months before the election, Sessions developed sudden Russia Dementia. In his opening statements, in the same day, Sessions declared he didn’t meet with Kislyak, but then when questioned, didn’t remember meeting with Kislyak:

But he demurred when Republican Sen. John McCain if he had ever raised concerns with Kislyak about “Russia’s interference in our electoral process.”

“I don’t recall that being discussed,” Sessions replied.

By the time Sessions met with Kislyak at the Republican National Convention in July, cyber security researchers had already confirmed that Russia had hacked the Democratic National Committee. And by the time Sessions met with Kislyak at his office in September, then-President Barack Obama had already commented on the Russian hacking campaign and hinted at what could have motivated it.

When McCain, a Russia hawk who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committeee, asked whether Sessions had ever discussed any issues of national security while meeting with Russian officials in his capacity as a member of that committee, Sessions again said he couldn’t remember.

Funny how a few hours changes a person’s statement, isn’t it? Suddenly Sessions admits to meeting with the Russian Ambassador, but “doesn’t recall” anything that was discussed.

Sessions, who said earlier that he recalled “pushing back” on Russia’s actions in Ukraine when he met with Kislyak. appeared confused, choosing instead to respond to McCain’s earlier question about whether he ever discussed “Russia-related security issues” with Kislyak.

“We may have discussed that,” Sessions said. “I just don’t have a real recall of the meeting. I was not making a report about it to anyone. I just was basically willing to meet and see what he discussed.”

“And his response was?” McCain asked.

“I don’t recall,” Sessions said

When Jeff Sessions was pushed past the Russian Amnesiac defense, he tried invoking executive privilege, even though he is not the President. Jeff Sessions isn’t doing this out of innocence, folks, because he worked for years as a judge–he knows the law. Jeff Sessions is looking for ways get around his required testimony, and in doing so, faces the same instance of impeding an investigation that took out members of Richard Nixon’s team:

“My understanding is that you took an oath, you raised your right hand today and said you would solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And now you’re not answering questions,” Heinrich said. “You’re impeding this investigation.”

He continued:

“So my understanding of the legal standard is either you answer the question, that’s the best outcome. You say ‘This is classified, can’t answer it here, I’ll answer it in closed session,’ that’s bucket number two. Bucket number three is to say I’m invoking executive privilege. There is not appropriateness bucket. That is not a legal standard. Can you tell me what are these long-standing DOJ rules that protect conversations made with the executive without invoking executive privilege?”

The attorney general said it was a “longstanding policy of the Department of Justice” not to reveal conversations between the attorney general and the president, saying he would need to share the questions with the president.

“Can you share those policies with us?” Heinrich asked. “Are they written down at the Department of Justice?”

“I believe they are,” Sessions replied.

“This is the appropriateness legal standard for not answering congressional inquiries?” Heinrich asked.

Sessions replied, “It’s my judgment that it would be inappropriate for me to reveal conversations with the president when he has not had a full opportunity to review the questions and to make a decision and approve such an answer.”

Shoddy judgment, invoking an unwritten policy, to determine that Sessions is above congressional inquiry, but the question is: will it work? Sessions just announced he is above the law because he is friends with the President. Scary types of friendships, those that are in the middle of investigations themselves.

When Sessions was involved in firing James Comey, he claimed that he was not violating his own recusal from the investigation into Russia’s election interference, but played coy with allegations that Sessions was less than honest. Sessions claimed to be persecuted by innuendo, but he dodged questions by saying, “why don’t you tell me?” “Why don’t you tell me?” isn’t an answer Mr. Attorney General:

“I recused myself not because of any wrongdoing but because of a DOJ regulation,” he explained. “The documentation [about the Russian investigation] — what little I received — was mostly already in the media.”

Last week Comey suggested that Sessions’ “continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation [was] problematic,” for reasons he said he could not discuss in public.

Sessions argued that his involvement in Comey’s firing was not a violation of his recusal. “I do not believe that it’s a sound position to say that if you’re recused for a single case . . . you can’t make a decision about the leadership in that agency,” the attorney general said.

“Respectfully, you’re not answering the question,” Wyden shot back. “The question is Mr. Comey said there were matters with respect to the recusal that were problematic and he couldn’t talk about them. What are they?”

Asked Sessions: “Why don’t you tell me?” He added, “This is a secret innuendo being leaked about me, and I don’t appreciate it.”

Sessions revealed that he did discuss Comey’s firing with Trump, saying that he relied on a memo from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to justify the firing and that his involvement as attorney general in that decision did not violate his recusal.

So, you can watch is testimony, or you can watch Steven Colbert’s version, which is just as entertaining:

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