Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Revenge Sessions

We've come to a nexus point on three things so far in the era of Trump, and they have produced one of the all-time bad decisions on the part of Trump Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

First, the Mueller investigation is closing in on the Trump regime in general and specifically, Jeff Sessions himself.  He's been linked to the now-infamous March 2016 meeting of Trump's foreign policy team where George Papadopoulos floated arranging a meeting with Putin, while Sessions himself has stated multiple times under oath that he knew nothing of such attempts to arrange meetings with Russian nationals. He faces testimony today in front of the House Judiciary, at a time when a regular oversight meeting such as this is bound to be very bad for him.

Second, Republican patience with Sessions after his recusal from all things involving the 2016 campaign investigation has evaporated. Trump has been angry at Sessions for months for not protecting him from Mueller by firing him, and he's floated getting rid of Sessions several times. Refusal to prosecute Hillary Clinton has been a particular sticking point, we all remember the chants of "lock her up!" at Trump rallies both before and after the inauguration.

Third, the opportunity for Trump to rid himself of Sessions has now revealed itself through the disastrous mess that is Roy Moore's Senate campaign in Alabama's special election.  Multiple Senate Republicans have dropped their endorsements of Moore as now five women have come forward to accuse Moore of sexual assault when the victims were at the time ranging from ages 14 to 18.  The option of a write-in has come up, and while current placeholder Sen. Luther Strange is mentioned as the champion of that strategy since Alabama law precludes removing Moore from the ballot, or as the beneficiary of a move where Moore wins and then is pressured to resign and GOP Gov. Kay Ivey names a replacement (again), this used to be Jeff Sessions's Senate seat.  Ivey could name Sessions as the replacement and suddenly the post of AG is vacant.

It's a complicated and complex mess to be sure, but all three of these factors have combined to force Sessions to play his hand, and last night he did just that.

He's going after Clinton after all.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is entertaining the idea of appointing a second special counsel to investigate a host of Republican concerns — including alleged wrongdoing by the Clinton Foundation and the controversial sale of a uranium company to Russia — and has directed senior federal prosecutors to explore at least some of the matters and report back to him and his top deputy, according to a letter obtained by The Washington Post.

The revelation came in a response by the Justice Department to an inquiry from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who in July and again in September called for Sessions to appoint a second special counsel to investigate concerns he had related to the 2016 election and its aftermath.

The list of matters he wanted probed was wide ranging but included the FBI’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state, various dealings of the Clinton Foundation and several matters connected to the purchase of the Canadian mining company Uranium One by Russia’s nuclear energy agency. Goodlatte took particular aim at former FBI director James B. Comey, asking for the second special counsel to evaluate the leaks he directed about his conversations with President Trump, among other things.

In response, Assistant Attorney General Stephen E. Boyd wrote that Sessions had “directed senior federal prosecutors to evaluate certain issues raised in your letters,” and that those prosecutors would “report directly to the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General, as appropriate, and will make recommendations as to whether any matters not currently under investigation should be opened, whether any matters currently under investigation require further resources, or whether any matters merit the appointment of a Special Counsel.”

Trump has repeatedly criticized his Justice Department for not aggressively probing a variety of conservative concerns. He said recently that officials there “should be looking at the Democrats” and that it was “very discouraging” they were not “going after Hillary Clinton.” On the campaign trail, Trump’s supporters frequently chanted “Lock her up!” at the mention of Clinton’s name.
“Hopefully they are doing something, and at some point, maybe we are going to all have it out,” Trump said recently.

So in order to save his own ass, Sessions is destroying the last shred of his credibility to raise the possibility of prosecuting Trump's political enemies.  Frankly, I expected this earlier, but it seems that Sessions is now painfully aware of how precarious his position is.  For him to even consider this as he is, the hammer must be close to falling on him.  Whether that hammer is wielded by Trump or by Mueller, take your pick.

The larger problem is of course the end of the era of rule of law in the executive branch of the US federal government.  Should a second special counsel be appointed by somebody as compromised as Sessions is now, then the impartiality of the Justice Department will be forever ruined. We're deep in authoritarian regime territory on this one, folks.  Trump has only been in office ten months and we're facing the very real possibility of not making it out of this one as even a cursory democracy.

The notion that there's anything to investigate regarding the Clintons is ridiculous.  The Uranium One story is fully fabricated by the right and is a distraction, period.  No wrongdoing by the Clinton Foundation has also been found, it's ethically lousy but legal.  To raise a special counsel over these issues is complete nonsense, and Sessions knows it.  This is an outright witch hunt, like Benghazi.

Still, at this stage I fully expect now for Robert Mueller to be fired.  The rest is timing.  If Sessions and the GOP are going this far, there's no reason for them not to dismiss Mueller and end his investigation into them. The indictments have got them terrified, and at this point it's all over but the justification.  There's still a chance that Mueller will be allowed to finish his investigation, but that probability just took a massive dip in the last 24 hours.  The one thing going in our favor right now is that the Mueller probe is robust enough to be self-sustaining if it's reached the "indictments and cooperating with the Feds" phase.  There's still much that will come out even if Mueller is dismissed.

Even with that information in hand as a hedge against lawlessness by Trump, this is still all kinds of bad, folks.  And I don't see a way out that doesn't involve extreme peril for the country.  America has certainly seen worse moments, but not in the last couple of generations. I don't honestly know how this ends, and anyone who tells you that they do is lying.  If Sessions does follow through with this (and if this is a bluff, it's a revolting one) all bets are off.

Stay tuned.

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