Today’s skirmish in the war on the nascent Trump administration is the Washington Post’s “Sessions met with Russian envoy twice last year, encounters he later did not disclose.” The Post reports that Attorney General Sessions met with the Russian ambassador twice last year while the presidential campaign was in progress, once in July and once in September. The second such meeting took place in Senator Sessions’s Senate office. Senator Sessions was a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee at the time.
As always in stories based on anonymous intelligence or law enforcement leas, there is a story behind the story. This one is likely related to the efforts undertaken by Obama aides as they left office to undermine the Trump administration, discussed by Paul Mirengoff here.
The Post reports nothing regarding the first such meeting and nothing regarding the substance of the meetings. Through a spokesman Attorney General Sessions denied that the substance had anything to do with the campaign, saying he “never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign. I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.”
The story quotes then Senator Sessions’s testimony at his confirmation hearing last month. Sessions was asked by Senator Al Franken what he would do if he learned of any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of the 2016 campaign. “I’m not aware of any of those activities,” he responded. He added: “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.”
The spokesman’s statement to BuzzFeed is slightly fuller: “Last year, the senator had over 25 conversations with foreign ambassadors as a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, including the British, Korean, Japanese, Polish, Indian, Chinese, Canadian, Australian, German and Russian ambassadors. He was asked during the hearing about communications between Russia and the Trump campaign — not about meetings he took as a senator and a member of the Armed Services Committee.” Sessions himself professes not to recall the substance of the discussions. In a separate column at the Post, Aaron Blake parses the denials.
The story is full of portentous implications. This is what it’s all about: “The previously undisclosed discussions could fuel new congressional calls for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Russia’s alleged role in the 2016 presidential election. As attorney general, Sessions oversees the Justice Department and the FBI, which have been leading investigations into Russian meddling and any links to Trump’s associates. He has so far resisted calls to recuse himself.”
The Post’s story has triggered a Pavlovian response from Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi has called on Sessions to resign.
The Post devotes six reporters to the story. Despite the manpower devoted to the story, the text reports nothing on the substance of the conversations and lacks any significant detail on the alleged July meeting. In one of several videos connected to the story, lead reporter Adam Entous states: “What we learned is that there was an informal discussion that basically Sessions had in July with the Russian ambassador to the United States on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention and that there was a second encounter, that one a much more formal one, that took place in Sessions’s Senate office that took place in September…”
Quotable quote: “The Russian ambassador did not respond to requests for comment about his contacts with Sessions.”