Sessions in a jam
Faced with revelations he failed to tell a Senate committee about two meetings with the Russian ambassador, Attorney General Jeff Sessions now agrees he shouldn’t be in charge of investigating Moscow meddling in the election, Newsday’s Tom Brune and Emily Ngo report.
At a hastily arranged news conference Thursday, Sessions said he had accepted the advice of Justice Department ethics advisers that “since I had involvement with the [Donald Trump] campaign, I should not be involved in any campaign investigation.”
His recusal satisfied Republicans in Congress, who had urged it, but not Democratic leaders, who said Sessions should resign, and that more had to be done to assure a thorough, independent probe of whether there was collusion between Trump’s team and Russia.
Sessions passed the baton for campaign investigations to the acting deputy attorney general, Dana Boente, an Obama appointee. Boente could decide to appoint a “special prosecutor.”
But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Boente is “still in the president’s chain of command and could be fired at will by the president.”
Schumer called for reviving a law that would allow an outside independent counsel. As of now, that looks like a tough sell to the Republican-run Congress.
Trump: It’s a ‘witch hunt’
A Trump statement Thursday night said Sessions was the victim of “a total witch hunt” by Democrats — “They lost the election and now, they have lost their grip on reality.”
“Jeff Sessions is an honest man. He did not say anything wrong. He could have stated his response more accurately, but it was clearly not intentional,” Trump said.
Earlier, Trump told reporters during a tour of the USS Gerald Ford in Newport News, Virginia, that before Wednesday’s news reports, he “wasn’t aware at all” that Sessions had met with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the campaign. He said he still had “total” confidence in Sessions.
Trump visited the Ford, a next-generation aircraft carrier, to make his case to sharply increase defense spending for a “great rebuilding of our military might.” See Ngo’s story for Newsday.
A complete tweet
The @realDonaldTrump account tapped out a four-part tweet late Thursday that had a rare fluidity, leading more than a few Twitter-trackers to suspect someone else wrote it.
"This whole narrative is a way of saving face for Democrats losing an election that everyone thought they were supposed to win," the message said in part.
But by early Friday, however, the messages carried more of the usual choppy petulance. "It is so pathetic that the Dems have still not approved my full Cabinet," he complained in one.
That Russian guy gets around
Kislyak had a previously undisclosed meeting at Trump Tower in December with Jared Kushner — Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser — as well as Michael Flynn, the then-incoming, now-gone national security adviser, The New York Times reported.
Flynn was ousted for failing to disclose to Vice President Mike Pence that he discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia in a separate conversation with Kislyak.
The take-away: Friending Russia
Russians and friends of Russia keep popping up in Trump’s inner and outer orbits, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison, and not all make big headlines.
For example, just-confirmed Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross refused to answer Democrats’ questions on his relationship with a Putin pal through the Bank of Cyprus, where Ross was vice chairman.
Still up in the air
More than a month has passed since federal courts unplugged Trump’s executive order imposing a travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority nations.
Trump vowed to fight the order and get a revised ban in place, but the urgency seems to have faded, The Associated Press reports. It now won’t be unveiled until next week at the earliest, a White House official said.
What else is happening
- The US military is preparing its wish lists for an expanded defense budget.
- Who is Sergey Kislyak? For nine years, his day job has been Russian ambassador in Washington. Current and former U.S. intelligence officials have described Kislyak, a diplomat since the Soviet days, as a top spy and recruiter of spies, according to a CNN profile.
- The Trump administration has offered Fiona Hill, a scholar and critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the position of White House senior director for Europe and Russia, a White House official told Foreign Policy.
- Pence routinely used a private email account for public business as Indiana governor, at times discussing sensitive matters and homeland security issues, The Indianapolis Star reports. Pence’s account was hacked last summer while he and Trump were attacking Hillary Clinton’s email practices.
- A new report suggests the raid against al-Qaida in Yemen that resulted in the death of a Navy SEAL did produce a big intelligence find: clues about hundreds of people or “contacts” linked to the terrorist group, CNN says.
- The Trump administration has found only $20 million in existing accounts to jump-start planning on a wall along the Mexican border.
- For his first day on the job after confirmation as Interior secretary, former Rep. Ryan Zinke of Montana rode a horse to work through the streets of Washington.
- The Senate confirmed former Texas Gov. Rick Perry as Energy secretary and Ben Carson as secretary of Housing and Urban Development.