The Washington Post reports that US intelligence officials intercepted communications between now-outgoing Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and his superiors in Moscow in which Kislyak told those superiors that he had discussed the Trump campaign and policy issues important to the Kremlin with Jefferson Beauregard Sessions The Third during the 2016 presidential campaign.
If The Post story is accurate and Kislyak wasn’t bamboozling his superiors, this would be a tale decidedly at odds with that told by Sessions during his sworn testimony before the Senate and in unsworn statements he’s made since. There was good reason for Sessions to deny that he ever talked policy with the Russians while Barack Obama was still president:
So in the face of this new story, one would have expected Sessions to issue a full-throated denial and to do so personally and with just the kind of carefully practiced spontaneous indignation he usually conjures when he gets his pinky caught in his zipper. Instead, he demurred to a spokesperson, who released this flaccid riposte:
Obviously I cannot comment on the reliability of what anonymous sources describe in a wholly uncorroborated intelligence intercept that the Washington Post has not seen and that has not been provided to me. The attorney general stands by his testimony from just last month before the Senate Intelligence Committee when he specifically addressed this and said that he “never met with or had any conversations with any Russians or any foreign officials concerning any type of interference with any campaign or election.”
This is a fascinating “denial.” Sessions (through his spokesperson) doesn’t say here that he never talked to any Russians at all during the campaign (that was his first story), or that he didn’t discuss anything of substance with Russians, or even that he didn’t discuss campaign and policy issues with the Russians. He just says that he didn’t speak with Russians about “any type of interference with any campaign or election.”
The theory of the case as to Russia-Trump collusion is that Trump surrogates like Sessions, at the time Russia was attacking our democratic institutions, were a) discussing campaign matters with Russians, and b) discussing policy matters important to the Kremlin with Russians. Sessions doesn’t deny that any of that transpired.
Instead, he just claims that he didn’t discuss collusion with the Russians while he was colluding with them. This is rather like a co-conspirator claiming not to have been part of a conspiracy on the ground that, at the time he was agreeing with his confederates to commit a crime, he did not discuss with them that they should form a conspiracy.
A prima facie case of Russian interference in the 2016 election campaign was made out when Sessions met with Russians during that campaign to discuss the campaign and US policy toward Russia. It will hardly do for Sessions to say that he is guiltless because, as he facilitated Russian election interference, he and the Russians never expressly discussed Russian interference in the election.