In light of Jeff Sessions’s testimony today, I call your attention to Paul Waldman’s commentary:
Unlike his boss, whoÂ claimsÂ he possesses â€œone of the greatest memories of all time,â€ Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a man who gazes into the past and sees only a fog of out-of-focus associates and half-remembered events. But inÂ his testimony todayÂ before the House Judiciary Committee, Sessions may have hit on the new Trump administration defense for the Russia scandal, one that can be applied to almost any future revelation.
Its essence is that the Trump campaign was such an ungodly, bumbling mess that it was simply incapable of colluding with the Russians in their campaign to undermine Hillary Clinton, help Donald Trump get elected, and generally disrupt and discredit the American electoral system.
As weaselly a defense as that may seem, it contains a good bit of truth. With each new revelation about the campaignâ€™s contacts with Russia, a picture is filling out. Itâ€™s one not of a well-organized collusion conspiracy, but instead of a bunch of nincompoops engaging in a kind of ongoing, ad hoc, fitful sort-of-collusion, one that involved lots of meetings, lots of emails, and lots of contacts between various Russians with Kremlin connections and people at different levels of the campaign. Whether it fits your definition of â€œcollusion,â€ it was one heck of an incompetent conspiracy.
Yesterday the Atlantic published some private direct messages sent through Twitter between Julian Assange and Donald Trump, Jr.Â What struck about these is that Junior seemed to have no clue what to do with Assange. Assange clearly was trying to rope Junior into collusion. Junior didn’t always respond, as if he wasn’t sure who Assange actually was, but he was too dim to have realized he should have nothing to do with Assange and did go along with some of his suggestions.
See also Charles Pierce:
To get back to Junior, however, how stupid do you have to be to get involved even marginally in something like this? Assange believes in nothing but himself. Heâ€™d sell Junior to the Somali pirates if he thought that would advantage him in some way. No game is worth that candle. And you can see how desperately WikiLeaks wanted to keep Junior on the string. (That request for the president*â€™s tax returns, so that WikiLeaks could publish them and thereby establish a neutral bona fides for future anti-Clinton news dumps, is positively Machiavellianâ€”and it wouldâ€™ve worked, too.) And now, in another perfectly predictable development, those emails are in the hands of congressional investigators. Apologies, again, to Eric Trump, who heretofore will be known as The Smart One.
Anyway, Paul Waldman continues:
There was theÂ meetingÂ that Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort had with Russians connected to the Kremlin on the promise of dirt about Hillary Clinton. There were the contacts multiple Trump officials likeÂ PapadopoulosÂ andÂ Carter PageÂ had with Russians, and the fact that others within the Trump campaign were likelyÂ more awareÂ of these contacts than we had been led to believe. Among other things, PapadopoulosÂ was toldÂ that the Russians had â€œthousands of emailsâ€ that could prove damaging to Clinton, before the Russian hacks came to light; we still donâ€™t know whom in the Trump campaign he relayed that juicy tidbit to. And I promise you, there will be more revealed about Michael Flynn; the fact that Trump was so incredibly eager to protect him after he left the White House is a flashing red light.
And Julia IoffeÂ reportsÂ on secret correspondence between Trump Jr. and WikiLeaks, which was essentially acting as an agent of the Kremlin during the campaign (and may still be to this day). Perhaps most striking, when WikiLeaks released a batch of information, it wrote to Trump Jr. suggesting that his father tweet about the revelations, which Trump didÂ just 15 minutes later.
So to review, this appears to be what happened in that case: 1) Russia hacks the emails of Democrats, including Clinton campaign chair John Podesta. 2) Russia passes some of what it finds to WikiLeaks for public release. 3) WikiLeaks asks Trumpâ€™s son to promote the release. 4) Trump urges media to focus on WikiLeaksâ€™ findings.
Was that a violation of the law? Maybe not. But I wouldnâ€™t be surprised if Trump Jr.â€™s defense will be, â€œHey, I didnâ€™t know what the hell I was doing!â€
You know, they probably didn’t. Take Michael Flynn, for example. Today Sessions, whose infamous lack of recall suggests brain damage, had to deny that he knew anything about Flynn’s alleged plan to kidnap U.S.-basedÂ cleric Fethullah Gulen and return him to Turkey, where he is wanted to stand trial for being the “mastermind” behind an attempted political coup in 2016. In exchange for Gulen, Flynn would have been paid $15 million. And this was while Flynn was part of the Trump campaign.
Flynn brings us to another dim bulb named Steve Bannon. During the time Chris Christie was in charge of the transition, Christie wanted to keep Flynn completely away from the administration. Gov. Beachball may be an asshole, but he’s not an idiot. But Nancy Cook wrote at Politico,
But when Christie wasÂ firedÂ from his transition perch on Nov. 11 â€” replaced by soon-to-be Vice President Mike Pence â€” Flynn and former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon celebrated by tossing binders full of potential personnel picks, carefully culled by Christieâ€™s team, into trash bins with a sense of ceremonial glee.
And do we want to talk about Stephen Miller? If that boy has an IQ in triple digits I’m the Tooth Fairy. Josh Marshall wrote last week:
According to theÂ Times, Miller is the â€œsenior policy advisorâ€ referenced in the Papadopoulos court documents. He was theÂ only unnamed playerÂ still unidentified. This means that Miller was one of the top Trump advisors Papadopoulos was keeping posted on his efforts to set up meetings between Russian officials and Trump campaign officials, perhaps even (preposterous as it may seem) a meeting between Trump and Putin himself. …
…Â Miller came to Trump via Jeff Sessions. He was a top staffer to Sessions in the Senate. By 2016 he had risen to Communications Director. And when Sessions endorsed Trump in late February 2016 he brought Miller into the Trump circle. As a speechwriter and advisor, Miller played a key role taking Trumpâ€™s instinctive racist-nationalist politics and aligning it with the comparable policy mix Sessions had been pushing, with no great luck, in the Senate for years. Hereâ€™s anÂ interesting lookÂ at the relationship.
We still donâ€™t have a terribly good explanation of how Jeff Sessions got on the Russia bandwagon, how he ended up having as multiple private conversations with then-Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak over the course of 2016, including one private meeting in Sessionsâ€™ senate office in September. Miller seems like at least one likely conduit. At a minimum, Miller getting updated on Papadopoulosâ€™ adventures makes it much less credible that Sessions knew nothing about the channels opening up between the campaign and Russia.
And of course, in the center of this nest of nincompoops is the Mega Moron himself, Donald Trump, who is something like a perfect storm of idiocy. “Dimmer than a 5-watt bulb,” this guy says. Bob Mueller, save us.