Attorney General Jeff Sessions's bad week just got worse. And while his new problems would appear to threaten his job, they also put President Trump in a box when it comes to his apparent desire to be rid of Sessions.
The Washington Post is reporting that Russia's ambassador has said he and Sessions discussed the 2016 campaign during two meetings last year. That is contrary to multiple public comments made by Sessions in March, when he recused himself from oversight of the Russia investigation.
Adam Entous, Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller report that Ambassador Sergey Kislyak's accounts of those meetings were intercepted by U.S. intelligence and that in them he suggested that the two men spoke substantively about campaign issues. Yet Sessions said March 1 that he “never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign,” and the following day, while announcing his recusal, he said it again: “I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign.”
This is now the second time that Sessions's accounts of his meetings with Russians have been seriously called into question. During his confirmation hearings this year, he denied having met with any Russians during the campaign. When the Kislyak meetings came to light, he clarified that he thought the exchange was in the context of the campaign only. He then quickly recused himself.
That flub was highlighted this week by none other than Trump. In a New York Times interview, Trump openly suggested that he wouldn't have nominated Sessions in the first place had he known he would recuse himself. Then Trump turned to Sessions's “bad answers” at his confirmation hearings:
TRUMP: So Jeff Sessions, Jeff Sessions gave some bad answers.
MAGGIE HABERMAN: You mean at the hearing?
TRUMP: Yeah, he gave some answers that were simple questions and should have been simple answers, but they weren’t.
If Trump does want to get rid of Sessions, it would seem that more of Sessions's “bad answers” about his meetings with Kislyak are on the table to justify it. The problem for Trump is that using that justification would also lend credence to the idea that there was something untoward about those meetings. Trump has repeatedly suggested that the entire Russia investigation is a “hoax” and a “witch hunt,” so the idea that he's suddenly that concerned about Sessions's Russia contacts would be difficult to reconcile.
It would also be difficult to square with other top Trump allies and family members who have failed to acknowledge or be transparent about their meetings with Russians. How could Trump take issue with Sessions's failures to correctly characterize his meetings with Russians but not with Donald Trump Jr., whose meeting seeking opposition research about Hillary Clinton allegedly from the Russian government came to light this month? And then what about Jared Kushner's meetings, which include that one, a meeting with Kislyak and a meeting with the head of a Russian state-owned bank. None of them were disclosed on his security clearance form when he joined the White House. Trump would need to explain why Sessions's failures were bad and his son's and son-in-law's weren't.
But Trump nonetheless seemed to get the ball rolling on that front in his New York Times interview. And given that more of Sessions's comments have come into question now, we'll see whether Trump keeps using that as justification for continuing to undermine one of his earliest supporters and top Cabinet officials.