Friday, March 3, 2017

Jeff Sessions: Oh You Mean THOSE Russians

There are a number of different ways to not tell the truth. You may say something that's untrue because you don't know the truth. You may honestly not understand the question because it's vague or you're not too smart. You may forget to include information that is relevant to the question you're answering. You may answer with extreme precision the exact question that you're asked, knowing that the interrogator has mistakenly not asked you the correct question. And of course you may just flat out lie and tell the person asking the question something that you know to be untrue. Lawyers often tend to be masters of this sort of wordplay. Exact wording is something that has been used both in fiction and in real life both by heroes and villains to give their enemies their just deserts or prevent said enemies from getting their proper rewards. The Norse god Loki, having wagered and lost his head, prevented decapitation by insisting that he had bet his head, not his neck so no sword or axe could touch his neck. The Witch-King boasted that not by the hand of man would he fall but apparently forgot that women and hobbits could wield swords. Khal Drogo, having watched his annoying brother-in-law Viserys, threaten to murder his own sister, Khal Drogo's wife, promises to give Viserys a golden crown. He keeps his word by giving his brother-in-law a molten golden crown which kills him. 

So exact words can be tricky. I mention all of this because Attorney General Jeff Sessions, having been asked under oath in increasingly direct ways if he had had any contact with the Russians during the Trump campaign, said no. It has come out that in fact Sessions did have contact with the Russians. 

Franken: CNN has just published a story and I’m telling you this about a news story that’s just been published, so I’m not expecting you to know whether or not it’s true or not. But CNN just published a story alleging that the intelligence community provided documents to the president-elect last week that included information that quote, “Russian operatives claimed to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump.” These documents also allegedly say quote, “There was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump’s surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government.”
Now, again, I’m telling you this as it’s coming out, so you know. But if it’s true, it’s obviously extremely serious and if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?
Sessions: Senator Franken, I’m not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I didn’t have — did not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment on it.
Franken: Very well. Without divulging sensitive information, do you know about this or know what compromising personal and financial information the Russians claim to have?
Sessions: Senator Franken, allegations get made about candidates all the time and they’ve been made about President-elect Trump a lot sometimes. Most of them, virtually all of them have been proven to be exaggerated and untrue. I would just say to you that I have no information about this matter. I have not been in on the classified briefings and I’m not a member of the intelligence committee, and I’m just not able to give you any comment on it at this time.
Leahy: Several of the President-Elect’s nominees or senior advisers have Russian ties. Have you been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election, either before or after election day?
Sessions: No.
However because of some prepositional phrases included in the question, Sessions and his supporters can argue that Sessions did not technically tell a lie. This is akin to asking a known mobster "Have you met with anyone in the Mafia to discuss your narcotics racket?" The mobster answers no, truthfully as far as he is concerned. The people with whom he meets to discuss narcotics are technically not full members of the Mafia. And the agenda items when the mobster does meet with his Mafia brethren are garbage hauling and extortion not narcotics. And it's not *his* narcotics racket anyway. It belongs to Fast Eddie.

So it's not the gangster's fault if the prosecutor asking the questions doesn't know how to be specific. This sort of hair splitting is something that drove Republicans up the wall when it was Bill Clinton doing it. I don't know if Sessions' answers are technically perjury. I'm no lawyer. But his answers certainly were misleading and untruthful. You would hope that the Attorney General would be above such untoward behavior. I haven't spent a lot of time on the new Administration's seeming affinity for Russia because (1) It's a copout for Democrats/progressives angry about the election loss to blame Russia and (2) I'm always suspicious of armchair imperialists and intelligence agencies who are eager to gin up new enemies. But that said it is starting to look as if Trump and crew have something to hide. I said it looks as if they have something to hide, not necessarily that they do. I do not believe, as some people do, that Trump and friends are treasonous and should be removed from office or worse. There's not the evidence for that yet. I do think that some partisans would like to do through scandal and media what they couldn't do at the ballot box-beat Trump. 

But we're not even six months into the Trump Administration. Trump and many of his team members seem to have a fierce allergy to the truth. While this might be acceptable or even expected from a press secretary whose job it is to spin and befuddle, it's not acceptable from the top law enforcement official in the nation. Sessions should resign.
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