So basically, Clovis told someone to do something he opposed and was against campaign rules because he was only being a polite Midwesterner and he couldn’t technically prevent him from doing it. (As a Minnesotan, I’ll gladly try to use this excuse going forward.)The strained explanation speaks to just how problematic this could be for Clovis. The campaign and the Trump transition team claimed over and over again that it had no contact with Russians during the campaign. Here we have a former Trump foreign policy aide actively setting up a potential meeting with the Russians, and Clovis giving him the thumbs-up. At one point, Papadopoulos specified that the meeting was requested by the Russian MFA (Ministry of Foreign Affairs), so there was no mistaking who was requesting the meeting.
Plainly, Papadopoulos doesn’t fit the Trump talking point that Mueller is somehow “proving” no connection between the campaign and the Russians, and Clovis’s involvement makes the entire talking point irrelevant. No matter how many times Sarah Huckabee Sanders insists there is no connection between the campaign and the Russians and that there is some unbridgeable gap between the actions of Papadopoulos, Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, the facts say otherwise. Trump insists Papadopoulos is “low level” and a “liar,” but he was on the campaign, as was Clovis, who was very high level.
In addition to Clovis, now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, we noted, appears in the photo of the March 2016 meeting with Papadopoulos and Trump. “A picture is worth a thousand words, and it may take the attorney general that many to explain this one,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) tells me. “Not only can’t Sessions get his story straight about contacts with Russia, but it is becoming harder for him to claim these contacts were inconsequential.”
Sessions not only was involved in the firing of FBI Director James B. Comey (when Trump said he had the Russia investigation in mind), but he also has at various times, when asked about his contact with or knowledge of Russian contacts, not brought up Papadopoulos. Sessions, in his confirmation hearing, denied having any contacts with Russians. When that proved not to be true, he revised his testimony. In June, he told the Judiciary Committee: “The suggestion that I participated in any collusion, that I was aware of any collusion with the Russian government, or hurt this country which I have served with honor for 35 years, or to undermine the integrity of our democratic process, is an appalling and detestable lie.”
However, the New York Times reports:
On March 31, back in Washington, Mr. Papadopoulos met Mr. Trump for the first time at a gathering of his new foreign policy team at the candidate’s Washington hotel. According to the former Trump adviser who was there, and who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid offending former colleagues, Mr. Papadopoulos spoke for a few minutes about his Russian contacts and the prospects for a meeting with the Russian president.But several people in the room began to raise questions about the wisdom of a meeting with Mr. Putin, noting that Russia was under sanctions from the United States. Jeff Sessions, now attorney general and then a senator from Alabama who was counseling Mr. Trump on national security, “shut George down,” the adviser said. “He said, ‘We’re not going to do it’ and he added, ‘I’d prefer that nobody speak about this again.’”
And yet Sessions recalled none of that in testimony under oath — in any of his explanations.
A final point on Russian contacts: Jared Kushner changed his clearance form no less than three times, which might also be viewed as an attempt to distance himself from Russia contacts. The Post in July reported:
Kushner, one of President Trump’s closest advisers, has filed three updates to his national security questionnaire since submitting it in mid-January, according to people familiar with the matter. That is significant because the document — known as an SF-86 — warns that those who submit false information could be charged with a federal crime and face up to five years in prison.Prosecutions for filing erroneous SF-86 forms are rare — though the Justice Department has brought cases against those with intentional omissions, and people have been denied security clearance for incorrect forms, legal analysts said.Under the microscope of Mueller’s investigation, the analysts said, Kushner’s mistakes might be viewed as evidence that Kushner met with Russian officials, then tried to keep anyone from finding out. His representatives contend that the omissions were honest errors that were corrected quickly.
So, you see, it wasn’t one low-level person having contact with Russians. It was also more senior advisers who either personally did have contact or had knowledge of others’ contacts. And yet they we all so reluctant to come clean. There’s plenty for Mueller to ponder.