Wake Up To Politics - June 14, 2017
I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It's Wednesday, June 14, 2017. 510 days until Election Day 2018. 1,238 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at email@example.com. Tell your friends to sign up to receive the newsletter in their inbox at wakeuptopolitics.com/subscribe!
Today is the 242nd anniversary of the creation of the U.S. Army; Flag Day, the 240th anniversary of the adoption of the Stars and Stripes as the U.S. flag; and the 71st birthday of President Donald J. Trump.
BREAKING NEWS A gunman open fired at a congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia on Wednesday morning. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) told CNN that 50 to 100 shots were fired and at least five people were injured: three law enforcement officers, a staffer, and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA). About 45 lawmakers were on the field at the time, according to Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), practicing for the annual bipartisan Congressional Baseball Game scheduled for Thursday. The Alexandria Police Department announced on Twitter that a suspect is in custody and not a threat. Scalise is in stable condition and undergoing surgery for a hip wound, aides have told various news outlets.
"The Vice President and I are aware of the shooting incident and Virginia and are monitoring developments closely," President Trump said in a statement. "We are deeply saddened by the tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers are with the members of Congress, their staffs, Capitol Police, first responders, and all others affected." In a tweet, Trump added that Scalise is a "true friend and patriot" who "was badly injured but will fully recover."
Sessions Hearing Summary Attorney General Jeff Sessions testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee for about two and a half hours on Tuesday, answering questions from 15 senators on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections, his recusal from that probe, his involvement in the firing of former FBI director James Comey and his interactions with Comey, as well as his contacts with Russian officials.
Sessions spent much of the hearing refusing to answer questions about his conversations with President Trump. In his opening statement, the Attorney General cited "longstanding Department of Justice practice" in saying "I cannot and will not violate my duty to protect confidential communications I have with the President." He later said it was a "longstanding policy" that prohibited him from discussing presidential conversations, which later became a "historic rule" of the Department. Sessions did not elaborate on the policy, although he did say he "thinks" it is in writing.
However, Sessions did not claim executive privilege, correctly noting that the power is held only by the President, merely saying he was "protecting the right of the President to assert it if he chooses," even though Trump has not signaled any plans to do so. The Attorney General did not cite a specific legal policy that barred him from answering such questions, merely stating that "it would be inappropriate." Sessions did, however, elaborate to some extent on his advice to President Trump on the firing of James Comey, which Sen. Angus King (I-ME) said showed he was being selective about which conversations to disclose. The Attorney General said Trump has "already revealed that" meeting, which allowed him to discuss it further."
Sessions was pressed on that point by nearly every Democratic senator, facing accusations of "stonewalling" from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and of "impeding this investigation" from Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM). "I am not stonewalling," he repeatedly insisted in response. Some Republican senators on the panel jumped to the Attorney General's defense, including Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), who said he was "amazed" that his colleagues had forgotten past Attorneys General refusing to discuss private conversations with the Presidents they served.
Members of both parties also asked Sessions to confirm or deny reports of an undisclosed third meeting he held with Russin ambassador Sergey Kislyak, which Comey reportedly revealed in a closed hearing last week. Speculation about the potential third meeting has centered around the Mayflower Hotel, where Sessions and Kislyak both attended a reception during the election. "I did not have any private meetings, nor do I recall any conversations, with any Russian officials at the Mayflower Hotel," the Attorney General unequivocally said in his opening statement. He later confirmed that he could not recall any meeting with Russian diplomats beyond the two previously acknowledged.
Sessions testified that he "did not remember" that Kislyak was in attendance at the reception, and that he does "not have any recollection of meeting or talking to" Kislyak at the hotel, although they "may have had an encounter during the reception" that he did not recall. "I didn't have any formal meeting with him. I'm confident of that," the Attorney Genera said. Sessions said he attended the event "as an interested person," not as chairman of the Trump campaign's National Security Advisory Committee, a group he said "met a couple of times" and "never functioned as a coherent team."
In his opening statement, Sessions also defended himself from accusations of perjury, after telling Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) in his confirmation hearing that "I did not have communications with the Russians," but later telling a reporter that he held two meetings with Kislyak during the campaign. Sessions blamed Franken's "rambling" question, saying he understood it to be asking about meetings occurring on "a regular basis," adding: "it simply did not occur to me to go further than the context and to list any conversations that I may have had with Russians in routine situations as I had many routine meetings with other foreign officials."
The Attorney General denied having any knowledge of collusion between Russian officials and the Trump campaign, saying "the suggestion that I participated in any collusion...to hurt this country which I have served with honor for 35 years" is "an appalling and detestable lie." Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) pressed Sessions to produce notes from his meetings with the officials, later receiving a reprimand from chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) for interrupting the witness. "I'm not able to be rushed this fast," Sessions said. "It makes me nervous."
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) excoriated his colleagues for broaching the prospect of collusion, comparing it to a "ridiculous" plot line from a James Bond movie. "It's just like through the looking glass," Sessions agreed.
Sessions also sought to "explain clearly the circumstances of my recusal" from the Russian investigation, revealing that he met with DOJ officials the day after being sworn in on whether or not he should recuse himself from the probe. From that point until announcing his recusal three weeks later, Sessions said, he "was never briefed on any investigate details" and "did not access any information about the investigation," later adding that he "basically recused mysef" on his first day in office.The Attorney General confirmed that this extended beyond the probe of potential collusion between Russians and the campaign, which involved a conflict due to his role in the campaign, to the entire investigation of Russian interference, which he acknowledged but said he has never sought a briefing on.
The Attorney General said his recusal did not stem from any meetings with Russian diplomats, but from a DOJ regulation that says employees should not participate in an investigation of a campaign they participated in. Sessions became frustrated at the suggestion that there were additional reasons behind his recusal: "There are none. There are none," he repeated in response to Sen. Wyden. "This is a secret innuendo being leaked out there about me, and I don't appreciate it," Sessions said.
Sessions also defended his involvement in the firing of then-Director Comey, saying that his recusal from the one investigation did not preclude him from overseeing the many others in his department. The Attorney General shed some light on the firing, telling the committee that he did not discuss his concern on Comey's performance with the Director before sending a memo to the President recommending his termination.
Finally, Sessions responded to Comey's testimony last week, telling the committee that he did respond when the Director told him he was uncomfortable meeting alone with the President, despite Comey's assertion to the contrary. "I responded to his comment by agreeing that the FBI and the Department of Justice needed to be careful to follow department policies regarding appropriate contacts with the White House," Sessions said.
I was hoping to cover more today, but was interrupted by a technical error that erased some of the newsletter... The trivia answer will be included in Thursday's newsletter as a result. Apologies.