Benjamin Wittes Shares Some Expert Thoughts on AG Sessions’ Letter to Congress

Attorney General Sessions is scheduled to testify before the House Judiciary Committee tomorrow at 10:00 AM in open session. I will endeavor to make the time to have a post up with the live feed. This evening a letter from AG Sessions to the chairman and majority members of that committee was released. It has gotten everyone stirred up. CBS’s Paula Reid has actually posted the letter to social media. Click on the tweet and then the letter to embiggen it.

Lawfare‘s Benjamin Wittes has taken the time to provide his actual expert opinion on what this all means. His thoughts are below.

The rest is after the jump!

Open thread.

74 replies
  1. 1
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    They are so fucked.

    ReplyReply
  2. 2
    Cheryl Rofer says:

    Thanks, Adam. I hope that Wittes makes this into a blog post.

    From the point of view of how a bureaucracy works, this makes a lot of sense.

    Sessions is a liar, but getting tangled up in his recusal could be more trouble than he wants. Even more than being a liar, he wants to keep his post.

    Another big hearing tomorrow on the bill to limit (slightly) Trump’s ability to use nuclear weapons. I’ll probably have something to say about that.

    ReplyReply
  3. 3
    Cheryl Rofer says:

    And with that, I’m outa here. Will check back in tomorrow morning.

    ReplyReply
  4. 4
    Corner Stone says:

    How in the world could Wittes be so naive?

    ReplyReply
  5. 5
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: He doesn’t have to. I did it for him!

    More seriously, no argument at all. As I wrote in a comment earlier this evening about this:
    https://www.balloon-juice.com/2017/11/13/balloon-juice-public-service-announcement-immigrant-integration-event-in-denver-on-november-14th-2017/#comment-6633728

    Those prosecutors are career DOJ. They will take their time and quietly review everything that was done with each thing they’ve been asked about. Some time, starting in about 90 days or so, with potential delays because of the holidays, they’ll report back that there is no factual basis to further investigate any of this and that the Comey email investigation is before the IG, as Sessions knows, and therefore needs to remain off limits so the IG can proceed unimpeded. It is going to be very, very difficult for Sessions to turn any of this into something that DOJ will actually move forward on. But by doing this, and leaking that he’s doing it, he get’s both the President off his back, as well as the couple of members of the House that were saying today he needed to either do this or resign. Sessions is a racist ideologue. He already knows he’s on thin ice with the FBI and the Intel Community over the Russia interference stuff. This is him just buying time by assigning make work.

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  6. 6
    Corner Stone says:

    The reason is that the allegations are not substantial and—at least insofar as I understand them—they will not serve as a proper predicate for a criminal investigation, let alone require a special counsel.

    Gobsmacked.

    ReplyReply
  7. 7
    Brachiator says:

    @Corner Stone:

    How in the world could Wittes be so naive?

    half-Wittes? Dim-Wittes?

    ReplyReply
  8. 8
    jl says:

    Maybe Wittes is correct, and a Congressional chairperson, apparently, has the prerogative to ask executive to conduct investigations that may verge on persecution of political opponents. The president doesn’t, and is corrupting DOJ is not his prerogative. Wittes might be correct, but we do not know that he is correct. Intentions play a role in determining what kind of criminal or Constitutional offense was committed. but (IANAL) I think sometimes the mere act constitutes a crime, and this may be a case.

    So, I think we have reached a point where a credible case for impeachment, conviction and removal from office can be made and substantial portion of public can be persuaded.

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  9. 9
    piratedan says:

    and as the wheels grind on, is there anyone associated with the Trump campaign that may actually be clean? I mean, could they ALL really be guilty (Sessions, Conway, Guiliani, Christine, Manafort, Flynn, Bannon, Miller, Page, Preibus, Lewandoski, et al)?

    and I guess as far as that goes, is there anyone in the GOP leadership that can also be included in that subset? Does anyone think Pence, Rohrbacher, Nunes, Ryan, McConnell, Scalise, McCarthy, or Cornym aren’t involved, in either the laundering of the money, the direction of the strategically aimed social media attacks or of the cover-up of the first two?

    It scares me to think how deep this runs, that they were all stupid enough to think that it wouldn’t be uncovered, did they think that the entire country was just going to go Meh?

    ReplyReply
  10. 10
    Corner Stone says:

    @piratedan:

    I mean, could they ALL really be guilty (Sessions, Conway, Guiliani, Christine, Manafort, Flynn, Bannon, Miller, Page, Preibus, Lewandoski, et al)?

    Glad to see you finally got to where most of us where several months ago.

    ReplyReply
  11. 11
    piratedan says:

    @Corner Stone: would have been there earlier, but I was busy typing “Fuck LBJ”,

    ReplyReply
  12. 12

    @jl:

    I think we have reached a point where a credible case for impeachment, conviction and removal from office can be made and substantial portion of public can be persuaded.

    Kinda hard to do when the folk that can do it have their fingers in their ears and are screaming “nah, nah, I can’t hear you”.

    ReplyReply
  13. 13
    jl says:

    @Corner Stone: “: that the allegations are not substantial and—at least insofar as I understand them ”
    Maybe a job as constitutional scholar on Fox News is opening up.
    I think if you want to talk about problems role of big money in US politics and Bill Clinton and Foundation being unwise, something to say about the uranium business. Serious scandal or any legal issue at all with the uranium bogus scandal: zero, zip, nothing.

    If DOJ is not corrupted and an investigation reveals several Big Lies the Trumpsters and GOP have told about the uranium deal to the public, some good might come of it. However, now, that is another thing we can not count on or assume. Trump’s corruption and unconstitutional behavior is what it is, time to start seriously talking impeachment and trial. Public debunking of Big Lies and removal from office would be a win-win.

    ReplyReply
  14. 14
    eemom says:

    Oh yes! Let’s by all means focus as much attention as we can on this desperate bullshit sideshow. It’s not like we have anything better to do.

    ReplyReply
  15. 15
    Corner Stone says:

    @jl: I am having a hard time figuring your comment out. What do you mean?

    ReplyReply
  16. 16
    Kay says:

    Couldn’t it just be complete bullshit they fed to media for purely political reasons? Sessions lied to Congress. Repeatedly. He’d much rather talk about locking up Hillary Clinton. He sure as hell doesn’t want to talk about Don Jr. and Wikileaks or the mall stalker.

    The timing of this seems extremely convenient for Sessions and Trump.

    ReplyReply
  17. 17
    jl says:

    @🐾BillinGlendaleCA: If the GOP can’t remember Nov 7 election, that is their problem.
    Have liberals have given up on trying to persuade the public?
    No you BillingGlendale!, not you?

    ReplyReply
  18. 18
    Mike E says:

    @eemom: This reality teevee show clearly is a one season affair…it’s shooting its entire wad, sad

    ReplyReply
  19. 19
    jl says:

    @Corner Stone: Long winded way of agreeing with you. From everything I have read about the bogus Uranium One non-scandal, and I have read quite a bit, there is no even remote evidence of anything criminal at all to investigate. I think good case can be made that no reasonable and informed person would think so, therefore evidence that Trump is attempting to corrupt DOJ.

    Is that clear enough?.

    ReplyReply
  20. 20
    Corner Stone says:

    @Kay: Of course it is. It’s a political filibuster. He wants to keep the focus on Trump’s political opponents so he can continue doing what he loves.

    ReplyReply
  21. 21
    Yarrow says:

    @piratedan:

    and as the wheels grind on, is there anyone associated with the Trump campaign that may actually be clean? I mean, could they ALL really be guilty (Sessions, Conway, Guiliani, Christine, Manafort, Flynn, Bannon, Miller, Page, Preibus, Lewandoski, et al)?

    and I guess as far as that goes, is there anyone in the GOP leadership that can also be included in that subset? Does anyone think Pence, Rohrbacher, Nunes, Ryan, McConnell, Scalise, McCarthy, or Cornym aren’t involved, in either the laundering of the money, the direction of the strategically aimed social media attacks or of the cover-up of the first two?

    Of course they’re all guilty. It’s been obvious for months. How that will play out I don’t know.

    ReplyReply
  22. 22
    Kay says:

    Ugh. And the NYTimes is flogging it. So there’s a shocker.

    There seems to be a direct Trump bullshit pipeline at that paper. It goes straight from the Trump Administration to the front page. They can’t let the little weasel distract with another Clinton witchhunt tomorrow. Find out why he lied to congress. That’s the issue.

    ReplyReply
  23. 23

    @jl: I think the public is persuaded. You seem to be in the “assume a can opener” phase here.

    ReplyReply
  24. 24
    piratedan says:

    @Kay: I can see what Wittes is getting at… Sessions has to show that he’s still doing his job but he also has to steer clear of getting any further on the bad side of his recusal on all things Clinton. So while he may suspect the allegations are bullshit, he kicks it downstairs to have it evaluated to see if there’s anything there. That gives him the appearance of doing something about the allegations, which should make Trump and the Fox News crowd “happy” so they can claim that she’s under investigation again (regardless of how true that really is) and allow them to speculate wildly about how thick the chains will be to place on her for her treasonous actions. Meanwhile, the aforementioned prosecutors will determine if there’s a there there and if they don’t find anything (as expected) the RWNJ’s will get to shout Conspiracy! one more time and make more hay out of that…..

    ReplyReply
  25. 25
    Yarrow says:

    @Kay: Of course it’s convenient. They’re in charge so they get to do stuff like this. Doesn’t mean the investigations aren’t also happening and that more dirt won’t drop, even this week. Perhaps an indictment might make the week more interesting. One of the Flynns, perhaps? Or both!

    ReplyReply
  26. 26
    Corner Stone says:

    I don’t know anything about Chuck Rosenberg (on TRMS tonight). But he seems like an impressive individual.

    ReplyReply
  27. 27
    jl says:

    @🐾BillinGlendaleCA: You saw something that majority of US public supports impeachment, conviction and removal from office? Srsly? What is it?

    ReplyReply
  28. 28
    Yarrow says:

    @Kay: Don’t you wonder if there’s some other issue at play with the NYT. Didn’t Carlos Slim own part of it for awhile? Wonder how much influence Russia has over the top people there and what way. What are they hiding?

    ReplyReply
  29. 29
    Corner Stone says:

    Anyone who thinks a shifting of responsibility to charge HRC from Sessions to anon prosecutors is going to satisfy Trump and keep the maddening crowd at bay is cray cray.

    ReplyReply
  30. 30

    @jl: Not asked in so many words, but I’ve seen polling that indicates that.

    ReplyReply
  31. 31
    Kay says:

    @piratedan:

    Yeah, I’m sorry butI feel like the Trump/Sessions relationship has been so over-analyzed it’s ridiculous. It doesn’t matter whether Trump DOES or DOES NOT want to fire Sessions. Grounding all these theories about motives in that is weak.

    Jeff Sessions should be held accountable for the public work he does- what we SEE, not some elaborate motive and double twist back handspring where he says he’s launching an investigation but what that REALLY means is he is NOT. Sessions lies repeatedly and now seems to be playing some game to weasel out of a hearing where he was to be asked those lies and now comes the “breaking news!” letter 12 hours before hearing.

    That’s the story- not whether Donald Trump “likes” Jeff Sessions or not or whether Sessions is planning some elaborate ruse where he fake-evaluates a Clinton scandal.

    ReplyReply
  32. 32
    jl says:

    @🐾BillinGlendaleCA: Since you travel in respectable company, you probably don’t have a good understanding of economist jokes. We assume a can opener when there is none. You said that there was in fact a can opener.

    A Pox on You
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tHSVdfvfpqA

    ReplyReply
  33. 33
    Kay says:

    @Yarrow:

    I was wondering if it’s the Mercers. There’s something hinky going on there. Their relationship with the Trump Administration is just WAY too tight. It’s almost like they’re part of it- like the bland “neutral” outlet who launder Brietbart stories and make them mainstream.

    ReplyReply
  34. 34
    Yarrow says:

    @Kay: I haven’t seen anything about the Mercers being involved with the NYT but nothing would surprise me. They have been funding all sorts of stuff related to the racist rightwing and certainly have been part of putting Trump in the WH. It’s not just random chance that Bob Mercer suddenly decided sell his company to his daughter. He’s up to his eyeballs in Russian treason. Watching him do a perp walk will be delicious.

    ReplyReply
  35. 35
    Thepatriotherald says:

    Why not just write a blog post instead of abusing Twitter in this way?

    ReplyReply
  36. 36
    mike in dc says:

    The idea behind investigating Uranium One is to try to get Mueller conflicted out(because he was FBI director in 2010). One, it likely won’t work. Two, pretty sure that would wind up with Rod Rosenstein appointing a Mueller deputy or another experienced guy with an impeccable rep for probity to replace him. Three, it might accelerate a move to issue more indictments to give irresistible impetus to the investigation.

    ReplyReply
  37. 37

    @jl:

    Since you travel in respectable company, you probably don’t have a good understanding of economist jokes.

    I have an advanced degree in the dark arts.

    ReplyReply
  38. 38
    burnspbesq says:

    @Corner Stone:

    You’re out of your depth here. Shut up and don’t embarrass yourself any further.

    ReplyReply
  39. 39
    Juice Box says:

    @Corner Stone: The unmoderated comments in the WP are sure full of Uranium One and HRC.

    ReplyReply
  40. 40
    Duane says:

    If Sessions wasn’t such a pathetic suck-up, and in a precarious position himself, he would have told Goldwatte not to waste his time, and that of his department, on such obvious political nonsense.

    ReplyReply
  41. 41
    Duane says:

    @jl: After seeing that video, I am wondering about the company you keep.
    So much for that respectable economists thing.

    ReplyReply
  42. 42
    danielx says:

    I suppose it’s possible that Sessions could maintain a hold on what remains of his self-respect and send Trump a resignation letter to the effect that he feels he has lost the confidence of the country and of Trump, etc etc.

    And pigs might have wings, too.

    ReplyReply
  43. 43

    @Duane:

    respectable economists

    “Assume a can opener…”

    ReplyReply
  44. 44
    Mary G says:

    The baby cannon today was spectacular:

    Boom!!https://t.co/7Dn3cGEUqY pic.twitter.com/BRmfYdtiK4— Benjamin Wittes (@benjaminwittes) November 13, 2017

    I couldn’t tell what that was he shot; he’s already done Reddi Whip (who pulled their ads off Hannity today too). Some type of foam insulation?

    ReplyReply
  45. 45
    Anne Laurie says:

    @Yarrow:

    Don’t you wonder if there’s some other issue at play with the NYT.

    The check-writers at the NYTimes, which is a very tradition-bound paper, hatehatehate the Clintons — especially Hillary — with a depth and purity unbound by logic or reason. The people who intend to make a high-dollar career at the NYTimes, e.g. Maggie Haberman, know that anything which “hurts” the Clintons is an easy front-page layup. If Trump were replaced by Pence / Ryan / Roy Moore tomorrow, the NYTimes would run stories defending Talibangelical law/Objectivism/child molestation by Friday, as long as those stories were framed as “Of course Hillary would be even worse!”

    ReplyReply
  46. 46
    jl says:

    @Duane: That link was the for the edification of young @🐾BillinGlendaleCA:

    I try to tone up this joint with some classical music, and what thanks do I get?

    ReplyReply
  47. 47

    @jl:

    young @🐾BillinGlendaleCA

    That was once the case, sadly no longer. 😢

    ReplyReply
  48. 48
    TenguPhule says:

    When it comes to Donald Trump and company, the worst speculation is invariably the correct one.

    ReplyReply
  49. 49
    David 🎅🎄Merry Christmas🎄🎅 Koch says:

    Nixon did this during Watergate.

    He wanted congress/DOJ to investigate LBJ for bugging the Nixon campaign during 1968.

    On Jan. 9, 1973, Nixon said that “if this could be cranked up, LBJ could turn off the whole congressional investigation” of Watergate. The request and the threat were duly conveyed to the LBJ ranch in Texas. According to Haldeman, the ex-president, talking to DeLoach, threatened, in response, to reveal something damaging to Nixon. That something has, until now, been a mystery. Haldeman’s diary, as published last year, says, “LBJ got very hot and called Deke and said to him that if the Nixon people are going to play with this, that he would release [deleted material].”

    Historians note LBJ said he would reveal Nixon had committed treason regarding Vietnam and that Nixon had illegally received $500,000 from the Greek military junta.

    You only act desperately when you know the end is near. It didn’t work for Tricky Dick and it won’t work for Dim Don.

    ReplyReply
  50. 50
    TenguPhule says:

    @piratedan:

    I mean, could they ALL really be guilty (Sessions, Conway, Guiliani, Christine, Manafort, Flynn, Bannon, Miller, Page, Preibus, Lewandoski, et al)?

    and I guess as far as that goes, is there anyone in the GOP leadership that can also be included in that subset?

    Yes.

    ReplyReply
  51. 51
    Emerald says:

    @Kay:

    Ugh. And the NYTimes is flogging it. So there’s a shocker.
    There seems to be a direct Trump bullshit pipeline at that paper

    Sometime in the future, History is going to have something to say about that newspaper, and it will not be pleasant.

    They believe they write history, of course, as “The Newspaper of Record.”

    That job ought to be transferred to the Post fairly quickly, if the Time keeps up this crap.

    Unglaublich.

    ReplyReply
  52. 52
    David 🎅🎄Merry Christmas🎄🎅 Koch says:

    @Anne Laurie: Trump’s spokesperson, Maggie Haberman

    /fixed.

    ReplyReply
  53. 53
    TenguPhule says:

    @David 🎅🎄Merry Christmas🎄🎅 Koch: Point of order.

    Nixon reportedly nearly started WW III while drunk.

    Let’s not assume Trump won’t go that far.

    ReplyReply
  54. 54
  55. 55
    TS says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: That about covers it – a government which criminalizes its political enemies is no democracy

    ReplyReply
  56. 56
    NotMax says:

    @BillinGlendaleCA

    Still can recall the slight shock of seeing pictures of him from around that time, after he had allowed his hair to grow to shoulder length.

    ReplyReply
  57. 57
    Aleta says:

    Why is there smoke?

    When Mr. Nix’s (Cambridge Analytic) aapproach to WikiLeaks was reported by The Wall Street Journal last month, it wasn’t clear whether Cambridge was working for the Trump campaign at the time. Federal Election Commission records show the first payment by the campaign to Cambridge Analytica is dated July 29, 2016.
    New details about the timing of Cambridge Analytica’s Trump campaign work show that the firm’s effort to obtain the Clinton emails—which U.S. intelligence agencies later determined had been stolen by Russian intelligence and given to the Sweden-based WikiLeaks—came as the company was in the advanced stages of contract negotiations with the campaign and had already dispatched employees to help it.
    Mr. Nix first pitched Mr. Trump’s advisers on working with Cambridge Analytica in mid-May, after Steve Bannon —who went on to become White House chief strategist—introduced them, according to people familiar with the matter. In the first week of June, the company dispatched a small team to San Antonio, where Mr. Trump’s digital operation was based, according to people familiar with the company’s hiring.
    On June 13, 2016, after weeks of negotiations, the company shipped a contract to the campaign, according to emails reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Mr. Nix and a Trump campaign representative signed the contract on June 23, a person familiar said. -from WSJ

    Because there’s fire.

    ReplyReply
  58. 58
  59. 59

    It seems as though spelling errors now put you in moderation, I’m fucked.

    ReplyReply
  60. 60
    Cermet says:

    @piratedan: Exactly – this is a method to prevent the orange fart cloud from firing him to get someone else so they will remove Mueller.

    ReplyReply
  61. 61
    Aleta says:

    @🐾BillinGlendaleCA:
    No visible means of support
    and you’ve not seen nothing yet
    Everything’s stuck together
    And I don’t know what you expect
    staring into the TV set
    Fighting fire with fire

    ReplyReply
  62. 62
    SFAW says:

    This has probably been answered elsewhere, but:

    Wittes keeps talking about KKKeebler Elf not wanting to compromise his recusal, or some such. What I want to know is: what if he does? What if he says “Fuck it, I’d rather take my chances with [insert name of quasi-regulatory group here] than with having Shitgibbon fire me”?

    This is not snark, I really have no idea what punishment — if any — would await him, nor who would administer it, were he to violate the terms of his recusal.

    ETA: I’m speaking in theoretical terms, since if the “quasi-regulatory group” is Congress, I expect nothing will happen.

    ReplyReply
  63. 63
    different-church-lady says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:

    I hope that Wittes makes this into a blog post.

    He did make it into a blog post. He just did the thing everyone does nowadays: use a one-liner software to blog with. Because languageTwitter is a virus.

    ReplyReply
  64. 64
    bystander says:

    I could use a new indictment to cheer me up. Waiting for another opportunity to wear my Men Are Getting Arrested t-shirt again.

    ReplyReply
  65. 65
    Jeffro says:

    @Corner Stone: several? Like, 18-20?

    ReplyReply
  66. 66
    randy khan says:

    @jl:

    If they appointed a special counsel for Uranium One, it could be the shortest special counsel investigation ever.

    ReplyReply
  67. 67
    SFAW says:

    @randy khan:

    If they appointed a special counsel for Uranium One, it could be the shortest special counsel investigation ever.

    Given Congress, it’s half-life would be somewhere between that of Strontium-90 and infinity.

    ReplyReply
  68. 68
    Enhanced Voting Techniques says:

    @randy khan: We saw this with White Water, Congress would whine about biased counsel until they got a card carrying wingnut and then it would be years of nothing until 2020 and some token charge like Hillary was late on her taxes one year.

    ReplyReply
  69. 69
    SFAW says:

    @SFAW:

    it’s half-life

    ITS, not it’s. What a maroon.

    ReplyReply
  70. 70
    Matt McIrvin says:

    @piratedan:

    It scares me to think how deep this runs, that they were all stupid enough to think that it wouldn’t be uncovered, did they think that the entire country was just going to go Meh?

    They thought that by the time it was all uncovered, rank corruption would be so normalized that they could disparage it as a non-story. Or that their power would be so complete that they could simply rule by terror and force.

    ReplyReply
  71. 71
    Matt McIrvin says:

    @SFAW: Republicans will be investigating the Clintons’ remote descendants 500 years from now.

    ReplyReply
  72. 72
    Uncle Cosmo says:

    @Mary G: Pray for ReddiWip – if that red can was Raid roachkiller, the entire neighborhood just morphed into a Superfund site. “Hey kids, it’s snowing nerve gas! :p”

    ReplyReply
  73. 73
    retr2327 says:

    @jl: The theory that Sessions is just passing the decision to not appoint a special prosecutor down to the career officials so as to get Trump and Goodlatte off his back is an intriguing one, with some plausibility. But here’s one possible way of testing it: is there a record of similar practices in the past? (i.e., sending requests for special counsels/investigations down the line as a way to kill them, instead of making the decision at the top). If there is such a record, then I’d say Wittes is probably on to something. And note: he has the experience and connections to know about such a practice.

    ReplyReply
  74. 74
    Mart says:

    Day late but always like to note that per the NRC neither of the Uranium 1 mines in the USA are licensed for export

    ReplyReply

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