Terrifying Read: “Department of Justification”

In case anybody’s still wondering whether it’s worth the trouble of evicting Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III from his current position, here’s Emily Bazelon in the NYTimes — “Stephen Bannon and Jeff Sessions, the new attorney general, have long shared a vision for remaking America. Now the nation’s top law-enforcement agency can serve as a tool for enacting it“:

One night in September 2014, when he was chief executive of Breitbart News, Stephen Bannon hosted cocktails and dinner at the Washington townhouse where he lived, a mansion near the Supreme Court that he liked to call the Breitbart Embassy. Beneath elaborate chandeliers and flanked by gold drapes and stately oil paintings, Jeff Sessions, then a senator from Alabama, sat next to the guest of honor: Nigel Farage, the insurgent British politician, who first met Sessions two years earlier when Bannon introduced them. Farage was building support for his right-wing party by complaining in the British press about “uncontrolled mass immigration.” Sessions, like other attendees, was celebrating the recent collapse in Congress of bipartisan immigration reform, which would have provided a path to citizenship for some undocumented people. At the dinner, Sessions told a writer for Vice, Reid Cherlin, that Bannon’s site was instrumental in defeating the measure. Sessions read Breitbart almost every day, he explained, because it was “putting out cutting-edge information.”

Bannon’s role in blocking the reform had gone beyond sympathetic coverage on his site. Over the previous year, he, Sessions and one of Sessions’s top aides, Stephen Miller, spent “an enormous amount of time” meeting in person, “developing plans and messaging and strategy,” as Miller later explained to Rosie Gray in The Atlantic. Breitbart writers also reportedly met with Sessions’s staff for a weekly happy hour at the Union Pub. For most Republicans in Washington, immigration was an issue they wished would go away, a persistent source of conflict between the party’s elites, who saw it as a straightforward economic good, and its middle-class voting base, who mistrusted the effects of immigration on employment. But for Bannon, Sessions and Miller, immigration was a galvanizing issue, lying at the center of their apparent vision for reshaping the United States by tethering it to its European and Christian origins. (None of them would comment for this article.) That September evening, as they celebrated the collapse of the reform effort — and the rise of Farage, whose own anti-immigration party in Britain represented the new brand of nativism — it felt like the beginning of something new. “I was privileged enough to be at it,” Miller said about the gathering last June, while a guest on Breitbart’s SiriusXM radio show. “It’s going to sound like a motivational speech, but it’s true. To all the voters out there: The only limits to what we can achieve is what we believe we can achieve.”

The answer to what they could achieve, of course, is now obvious: everything. Bannon and Miller are ensconced in the West Wing, as arguably the two most influential policy advisers to Donald J. Trump. And Jeff Sessions is now the attorney general of the United States. The genesis of their working relationship is crucial to understanding the far-reaching domestic goals of the Trump presidency and how the law may be used to attain them over the next four years. Bannon and Sessions have effectively presented the country’s changing demographics — the rising number of minority and foreign-born residents — as America’s chief internal threat. Sessions has long been an outlier in his party on this subject; in 2013, when his Republican colleagues were talking primarily about curbing illegal immigration, he offered a proposal to curb legal immigration. (It failed in committee, 17 to one.)…

At a time when other, more libertarian conservatives had begun to embrace critiques of the criminal-justice system, each man saw crime as yet another way that the fabric of society was deteriorating. Read more



Looks Like Kushner Was Playing Footsie with the Russian Ambassador, Too

Hey, remember the Fortunate Son(-in-Law)? Apparently, when he wasn’t toasting future business deals with Chinese oligarchs, he was horning in on Mike Flynn’s meetings with Ambassador Kislyak.

The NYTimes, more in sorrow than anger:

Michael T. Flynn, then Donald J. Trump’s incoming national security adviser, had a previously undisclosed meeting with the Russian ambassador in December to “establish a line of communication” between the new administration and the Russian government, the White House said on Thursday.

Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and now a senior adviser, also participated in the meeting at Trump Tower with Mr. Flynn and Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador. But among Mr. Trump’s inner circle, it is Mr. Flynn who appears to have been the main interlocutor with the Russian envoy — the two were in contact during the campaign and the transition, Mr. Kislyak and current and former American officials have said…

The New Yorker reported this week that Mr. Kushner had met with Mr. Kislyak at Trump Tower in December. Hope Hicks, a White House spokeswoman, confirmed on Thursday that Mr. Flynn was also at the meeting in response to questions from a New York Times reporter…

What is now becoming clear is that the incoming Trump administration was simultaneously striking a conciliatory pose toward Moscow in a series of meetings and phone calls involving Mr. Kislyak.

“They generally discussed the relationship and it made sense to establish a line of communication,” Ms. Hicks said. “Jared has had meetings with many other foreign countries and representatives — as many as two dozen other foreign countries’ leaders and representatives.”…

Bonus story, here come the Trump Crime Cartel’s Rosencrantz & Guildenstern, per USA Today:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is not the only member of President Trump’s campaign who spoke to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at a diplomacy conference connected to the Republican National Convention in July. At least two more members of the Trump campaign’s national security officials also spoke with Kislyak at the event, and several more Trump national security advisers were in attendance.

It’s unknown what the Trump campaign officials who spoke with the ambassador – J.D. Gordon and Carter Page – discussed with him. Those who took part in the events in Cleveland said it is not unusual for presidential campaign teams to interact with diplomats…

Hossein Khorram, an RNC delegate from Washington State who wasn’t part of Trump’s campaign, attended the diplomacy event and said it provided a forum for diplomats to share their concerns with GOP officials. After formal panel discussions, the attendees broke off into informal conversations.

“Basically the ambassadors — including the Russian ambassador — they were expressing their, mainly, fears about the war on terror and collaborating with the United States,” he said. “There was no promises made on behalf of the Trump administration.”

Sessions, Gordon, and Trump campaign national security advisory committee member Walid Phares all spoke on stage at the Global Partners in Diplomacy program on July 20 in an auditorium at Case Western Reserve University, according to the program schedule and pictures posted on social media. Current Deputy National Security Advisor KT McFarland was also present at the day’s sessions…

“Nice little party ya got here — be a shame if something were to happen to it.”

THANKS, REPUBLICANS!



Inside the State Department, As the Trump Kleptocracy Takes Control

This week began with reports that President Donald Trump’s budget proposal will drastically slash the State Department’s funding, and last week ended with White House adviser and former Breitbart head Stephen Bannon telling the attendees of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference that what he and the new president were after was a “deconstruction of the administrative state.” At the State Department, which employs nearly 70,000 people around the world, that deconstruction is already well underway.

In the last week, I’ve spoken with a dozen current and recently departed State Department employees, all of whom asked for anonymity either because they were not authorized to speak to the press and feared retribution by an administration on the prowl for leakers, or did not want to burn their former colleagues. None of these sources were political appointees. Rather, they were career foreign service officers or career civil servants, most of whom have served both Republican and Democratic administrations—and many of whom do not know each other. They painted a picture of a State Department adrift and listless.

Sometimes, the deconstruction of the administrative state is quite literal. After about two dozen career staff on the seventh floor—the State Department’s equivalent of a C suite—were told to find other jobs, some with just 12 hours’ notice, construction teams came in over President’s Day weekend and began rebuilding the office space for a new team and a new concept of how State’s nerve center would function. (This concept hasn’t been shared with most of the people who are still there.) The space on Mahogany Row, the line of wood-paneled offices including that of the secretary of state, is now a mysterious construction zone behind blue tarp…

A lot of this, the employee said, is because there is now a “much smaller decision circle.” And many State staffers are surprised to find themselves on the outside. “They really want to blow this place up,” said the mid-level State Department officer. “I don’t think this administration thinks the State Department needs to exist. They think Jared [Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law] can do everything. It’s reminiscent of the developing countries where I’ve served. The family rules everything, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs knows nothing.”…

But while senior State appointees have yet to be appointed, other staff has been showing up. The Office of Policy Planning, created by George Kennan after World War II, is now filled not just with Ph.D.s, as it once was, but with fresh college graduates and a malpractice attorney from New Jersey whose sole foreign-policy credential seems to be that she was born in Hungary. Tillerson’s chief of staff is not his own, but is, according to the Washington Post, a Trump transition alum named Margaret Peterlin. “Tillerson is surrounded by a bunch of rather mysterious Trumpistas,” said the senior State official who recently left. “How the hell is he supposed to do his job when even his right hand is not his own person?” One State Department employee told me that Peterlin has instructed staff that all communications with Tillerson have to go through her, and even scolded someone for answering a question Tillerson asked directly, in a meeting…

So the fate of the free world is in the hands of a real-estate developer’s Fortunate Son, and an oil-business CEO who stands to make billions if Russian sanctions are relaxed, as filtered through the grip of a Trump apparatchik whose prior political experience involved working for Dick Armey and Denny Hastert. What could possibly go wrong?



BREAKING: Jeff Sessions Lied About His Russian Contacts, Too

When someone tells you who they are, believe them — and Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III is a true believer in the myth of the “Glorious South” much more than he is a citizen of these modern United States. His revered ancestors had no problem attempting to sell out their country to foreign powers; why would we assume a loyal secessionist like Sessions would balk?

Per the Washington Post:

Then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) spoke twice last year with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Justice Department officials said, encounters he did not disclose when asked about possible contacts between members of President Trump’s campaign and representatives of Moscow during Sessions’s confirmation hearing to become attorney general.

One of the meetings was a private conversation between Sessions and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that took place in September in the senator’s office, at the height of what U.S. intelligence officials say was a Russian cyber campaign to upend the U.S. presidential race.

The previously undisclosed discussions could fuel new congressional calls for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Russia’s alleged role in the 2016 presidential election. As attorney general, Sessions oversees the Justice Department and the FBI, which have been leading investigations into Russian meddling and any links to Trump’s associates. He has so far resisted calls to recuse himself.

When Sessions spoke with Kislyak in July and September, the senator was a senior member of the influential Armed Services Committee as well as one of Trump’s top foreign policy advisers. Sessions played a prominent role supporting Trump on the stump after formally joining the campaign in February 2016.

At his Jan. 10 Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing, Sessions was asked by Sen. Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, what he would do if he learned of any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of the 2016 campaign.

“I’m not aware of any of those activities,” he responded. He added: “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.”…

When asked to comment on Sessions’s contacts with Kislyak, Franken said in a statement to The Washington Post on Wednesday: “If it’s true that Attorney General Sessions met with the Russian ambassador in the midst of the campaign, then I am very troubled that his response to my questioning during his confirmation hearing was, at best, misleading.

Franken added: “It is now clearer than ever that the attorney general cannot, in good faith, oversee an investigation at the Department of Justice and the FBI of the Trump-Russia connection, and he must recuse himself immediately.”

CNN adds:

Sen. Lindsey Graham said Wednesday if the FBI determines that President Donald Trump’s campaign illegally coordinated with Russia, Attorney General Jeff Sessions should recuse himself from making the decision whether to pursue prosecutions…

But Graham deflected a question about a new Washington Post report that Sessions twice spoke with the Russian ambassador to the United States during the 2016 presidential campaign, saying he needs to know more.

“If there were contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, they may be legitimate; they may be OK. I want to know what happened between the Trump campaign, the Clinton campaign and the Russians,” Graham told CNN’s Dana Bash at a town hall in Washington with Sen. John McCain…

Very simple, Sen. McCain: the Russians used the Trump campaign to kneecap the Clinton campaign, with the assistance of James Comey’s FBI, while the Republican Party turned a (very public) blind eye. Now we just need proof.

You guys managed to gin up, what? seventeen separate Benghazi investigations? I strongly suspect it would take a lot less effort to prove what Trump’s handlers and the Russians were up to, since the Russians no longer care about hiding their success and the Trumplodytes couldn’t hide a cookie jar from your average toddler.

ETA — Shamelessly stolen from Adam, in the post below:



Open Thread: Can the Nerd Prom Be Saved?

… and if it were to disappear, who would notice?

Even if this lineup is too perfect to happen, could we at least spread the rumor that it will? Maybe “leak” this tweet to the Fox News twitter feed?…



Saturday Night Foreign Intrigues Saga Open Thread: In Our Last Episode…

“What did the President-Asterisk know, and when did he know it?”

(Well, a lifelong Democrat can dream… )

The Gang That Couldn’t Steal (an election) Straight…



Under Cover of Darkness Open Thread: CPAC, Milo, and the Limits of Cleek’s Law (Part the Second)

Cleek’s Law: Today’s conservatism is the opposite of what liberals want today, updated daily.

Roy Edroso, at Alicublog:

I see Milo Yiannopoulos’ friends have turned on him. Just kidding — they were never his friends; just a bunch of conservatives and libertarians who took him up because, one, he hated things they also hated (liberals, women, the transgendered, et alia); two, he celebrated things they also celebrated, primarily the vicious, spiteful treatment of anyone weaker than themselves; and three, because he was ostentatiously gay — indeed an old-fashioned caricature of homosexuality straight out of the Liberace playbook — and allowed himself to be associated with them, which gave conservatives and libertarians two things they thought would advantage them in the dreary Culture Wars they’re always pursuing: glamour and victim status…


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