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3 March 2017

The Jeff Sessions fiasco deepens Donald Trump’s Putin problem

The Attorney General's recusal from an FBI probe will do nothing to dispel the belief that the worst is still being hid.

By Patrick Maguire

Reports that Donald Trump’s White House has turned a corner have been greatly exaggerated.

The results of what the president is calling a “total witch hunt” are in: Jeff Sessions, the embattled attorney general, has bowed to cross-party pressure and recused himself from the FBI’s probe into Russian interference in last year’s presidential election. He is the second member of Trump’s inner circle, after national security adviser Michael Flynn, to be forced into a public climbdown over previously undisclosed ties to Moscow.

Sessions, one of Trump’s earliest and noisiest backers, is accused of perjury after failing to disclose to his senate confirmation hearing two private meetings he had with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislak during last year’s presidential campaign. His appearance was described as “very misleading at best” by the Democrats, who are now calling for an extensive inquiry into Russian meddling led by a special prosecutor.

That Sessions has recused himself from a high-profile investigation oughtn’t be remarkable or unprecedented in of itself: both Obama and Bush’s attorney generals did the same. But, predictably, things are much, much worse this time. 

The attorney general’s line is that he “should not be involved in investigating a campaign [he] had a role in”. As mea culpas go, it’s pretty insipid. It will do nothing to assuage fears that the true scale of Putin’s ties to the Trump White House is yet to be seen – or dispel the alarming notion that the worst is still being hidden. 

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Nor does it appear all that likely that Sessions will resign. He enjoys Trump’s full support and, crucially, the New York Times reports Republicans in congress have closed ranks. True to recent form, they will resist calls for Sessions’ resignation and a beefed-up inquiry. This despite the very real possibility, revealed in the Times of London, that NATO could interpret Russia’s election interference as an act of war.

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The inaction of these pliant Republican lawmakers could yet have grave consequences. In a remarkable series of tweets last night, the Atlantic‘s David Frum, a former Bush speechwriter, outlined how this “hyper-partisan” congress could end up aiding and abetting Trump in his attempts to attack and perhaps permanently undermine America’s democratic institutions. 

There are separate congressional and senate investigations into Russia’s interference in the presidential election. The latter, says the Indy, has called former MI6 spy Christopher Steele – the author of the notorious kompromat dossier on Trump – to give evidence. But, if the Sessions fiasco is anything to go by, we are nowhere near to finding out the whole truth.