Thursday, June 15, 2017

June 15, 2017--Jeff Sessions Takes the 5th

Well, not exactly. He didn't take the literal 5th Amendment against self-incrimination, but, for all intents and purposes, during his testimony in the Senate on Tuesday, he did a version of that.

When pressed by Democratic members of the Intelligence Committee to respond to questions about any conversations he may have had with President Trump about Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election, he said that to respond to private conversations with the president would for him, as Attorney General, be "inappropriate."

In effect, he assigned "executive privilege" to himself without calling it that.

This in itself was inappropriate as it is only the president who can claim executive privilege. And, as in the past, if a president does that--Trump thus far hasn't--the Supreme Court has ruled that it is not mentioned in the Constitution and is not an absolute power of the presidency. It does come close to that when national security is at stake. But it cannot be casually invoked when there is a criminal investigation underway. This was a key ruling during Watergate when Nixon resisted turning over his taped conversations to the special prosecutor.

With presumptuousness, the Attorney General, acknowledging that only presidents can invoke executive privilege, also said that he is "protecting the right of the president to assert it if he chooses." He's protecting the president's presidential right! That's not just presumptuousness, that's also chutzpah.

A criminal investigation may not be underway (yet) involving the Attorney General or the president; but if Sessions was not going to answer questions about conversations with the president, it is still not for him on his own initiative to assert a form of executive privilege.

Having said that, why am I suggesting that what Sessions did is analogous to taking the 5th?

Because it ended that line of inquiry as invoking the 5th Amendment does when someone who may or may not be the target of a criminal investigation refuses to answer questions that he or she claims might be incriminating.

Moving on from the technical, why then did Sessions refuse to answer questions of this kind?

If he did not have any conversations with the president about Russian involvement in our election, there would be no need to wall off any testimony about conversations that did not take place. One only builds a wall when there is something to contain and protect.

So, when asked if he had any such conversations, rather that saying it is inappropriate for him to talk about them, since they never happened (so he claimed), all he needed to do was say--

"We never had any conversations of this kind."

His not doing so makes one wonder about at least a couple of things--

He may be lying in an effort to protect himself and the president.

If he is attempting to do this he would not be the first Attorney General to do so. Nixon's first AG, John Mitchell, wound up in jail for his various roles in Watergate, from the initiation to the coverup.

Then, Sessions' conversations with President Trump about Russian involvement, if these in fact occurred, likely happened with more than the two of them alone in the Oval Office.

If so, this means, as special counsel Robert Mueller (who Trump already appears to be itching to fire) interrogates Trump campaign aides and current senior White House staff who were active in the campaign and had various levels of involvement with Russia, if one of more of them fears they are going to be prosecuted and if convicted spend years in jail, some, again as with Watergate, would surely look to make a deal with Mueller by throwing those above them in the chain of command under the bus. This would bring prosecutorial scrutiny up the hierarchy, all the way to the president.

As scrutiny works its way upward, just before getting to Trump, it would sweep in Sessions. Thus, Sessions does not want lying to Congress while under oath to be on the list of serious charges he may be facing six or ten months from now. For him, things are already bad enough.

Do I hear drip, drip, drip?

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