Recusing himself from a government probe of possible Trump campaign connections to Russian hacking of emails involving Hillary Clinton is the least Attorney General Jeff Sessions can do. And that was the point of Sessions’ action Thursday, as more Republicans demanded it and Democrats started to go further, demanding Sessions’ resignation.
What the Russian probe needs, of course, is an independent counsel. Republicans in the Justice Department (Sessions) and on the Senate Intelligence Committee in the person of North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr are predictable partisans who don’t inspire confidence that an investigation under their watch would be all it needed to be. Burr has seemed a reluctant overseer of any such investigation from the start.
He, like Sessions, was a Trump supporter and has remained steadfast.
Sessions on two occasions seemed to mislead Democratic questioners in the Senate, Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Al Franken of Minnesota, who asked him if he’d had contact with the Russians. He said no. Now his office is saying Sessions was in touch with Russian officials, specifically Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, only in relation to his Senate position, not his role in the Trump campaign. That still doesn’t seem to excuse Sessions’ answers. And Kislyak is described by some in U.S. intelligence (not Trump’s favorite group right now) as a spy who recruits other spies.
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Also in the mix are questions about whether the FBI was forthcoming with senators about what it knew about alleged campaign connections to the Russians.
All these things point to a need for a special investigator, prosecutor, whatever is needed to dig out the truth amid all the rumors and allegations. If the roles and parties were reversed, Republicans would be screaming. They impeached President Clinton over lies related to an affair; this is about the Russians.
Obviously, the answers Sessions gave and his contacts with the Russian ambassador, however casual, should be part of an investigation. President Trump, after all, seemed to be cheering on alleged Russian hacking at one point during his race.
A probe free of Trump administration connections will be the only way the president can find the truth and come out from under the cloud that lingers over Russian involvement in this most fundamental part of American democracy. And with these disclosures about Sessions and despite the president’s well-accepted speech to Congress this week, a sense of urgency has descended on Capitol Hill.