Just six weeks into the Trump presidency, the administration is trying to defuse another controversy involving Russian interference in the presidential election.
As the flames got increasingly higher Thursday around Attorney General Jeff Sessions for giving misleading answers during his Senate confirmation hearings, he recused himself from supervising any investigations of the campaign, including whether those working to elect Trump colluded with Russian operatives.
That’s not going to put out the fire. Not when the administration keeps getting caught on matters involving Russia.
Sessions’ decision came only after The Washington Post revealed that the former Alabama senator had two conversations, including a September meeting in his Senate office, with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. The meeting happened as Hillary Clinton was demanding a probe of Russian hacking, WikiLeaks was releasing emails damaging to Democrats, and the Treasury Department was announcing financial sanctions against Russia’s invasion of Crimea.
Sessions was a key Trump campaign adviser and later the nominee for attorney general. Yet when he was asked at his hearing in January whether anyone affiliated with the campaign had communications with the Russian government, he said he himself had none. At a news conference Thursday, he acknowledged that in the Kislyak meeting, “somehow Ukraine came up,” and that the ambassador invited him to lunch. He said, “Ambassadors are pretty gossipy, and this was in the campaign season,” but he didn’t recall any specific political discussions.
Somehow he forgot all of that when he was under oath. During this time, Michael Flynn, Trump’s choice for national security adviser, was facing increased scrutiny over his contacts with Kislyak. Flynn later resigned.
Sessions’ recusal would put Rod Rosenstein, the administration’s nominee for deputy attorney general, in charge of the probe. Rosenstein, yet to be confirmed, would have to work daily with Sessions and the White House on routine matters. That doesn’t pass the test of a completely independent probe. Rosenstein’s first action must be to appoint a special counsel to take over this case.