The Note: Sessions steps aside from Russia inquiries

The Attorney General recused himself from investigations into Trump and Russia.

March 3, 2017, 8:55 AM


Day No. 43

THE BIG STORY: “Repeal and replace” gave way to “recuse and resign.” “Witch hunt” declared President Trump – a sentiment quickly echoed by, yes, the Russians. The halting, contradictory, often inexplicable handling of Russia revelations by the Trump White House is either making the story more than it needs to be, or elevating it to exactly where it belongs. In either scenario, it won’t disappear with Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal announcement – a recusal from an investigation the White House has declared either non-existent or already concluded. The latest drips come just days after the president established what could have been a new tone for this phase. He’s back on Twitter now, calling Democrats “so pathetic” just this morning. This will be the week remembered for Donald Trump finding his presidential footing – only to lose it pretty quickly again.

THE SLEEPER STORY: Another week is slipping by without a revised travel ban – the same travel ban that, when delayed, the president claimed was critical for immediate national security. If and when that new order comes, it’s already looking significantly different – although the Trump White House is not and will not be admitting that. For starters, one of the seven countries – Iraq – is coming off the list entirely, according to U.S. officials, apparently at the behest of several Cabinet secretaries who identified how problematic that stance is for relations with a close ally where there are military urgencies. And the idea that it may exempt all current visas holders from all of the countries listed is a major reversal. What started as a Muslim ban could end up being tighter restrictions on those coming from six predominantly Muslim countries, with current visa holders unaffected. Will the White House acknowledge initial errors in policy, or in judgment?

THE SHINY STORY: Another email story – seriously? New details about a private account (AOL!) used by Vice President Mike Pence while he was governor of Indiana are prompting Democrats to cry hypocrisy or worse, pointing specifically to evidence that his account was compromised. But before we call for congressional inquiries or special prosecutor, it’s important to realize that Indiana law allowed for the arrangement. “As Governor, Mr. Pence fully complied with Indiana law regarding email use and retention,” Pence’s spokesman said. The governor did not control a secret server. Stories about public officials using private email accounts will be flashy for a long while. But that doesn’t provide for any equivalencies.

TLDR: A week of great promise for the president is ending with Russia headlines that won’t go away, even after Attorney General Jeff Sessions' recusal announcement.

PHOTO OF THE DAY: The president donned a green bomber jacket and traded his signature "Make America Great Again" baseball cap for a U.S. Navy hat yesterday when he traveled to the pre-commissioned U.S.S. Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier in Newport News, Virginia. Here's a look:

PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump salutes as he walks to Air Force One prior to departing from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, March 2, 2017, as he traveled to Newport News, Va., to visit the pre-commissioned USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier.
U.S. President Donald Trump salutes as he walks to Air Force One prior to departing from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, March 2, 2017, as he traveled to Newport News, Va., to visit the pre-commissioned USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier.
Soel Loeb/Getty Images


Sessions recusing himself from campaign probes. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from any existing or future probes related to any campaigns for president, he said Thursday. The move comes after it was reported Wednesday night that Sessions had two meetings with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. in 2016 after he started supporting Donald Trump's presidential bid and then failed to disclose the contacts during his confirmation hearing, reports ABC's MEGHAN KENEALLY and MIKE LEVINE. "Let me be clear: I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign," Sessions told reporters.

Timeline of Jeff Sessions' connections with the Russian ambassador. The new revelations about Attorney General Jeff Sessions' meetings with the Russian ambassador during 2016 are the latest intersection between President Trump's team and Russian officials, reports ABC's MEGHAN KENEALLY. A spokesperson for the Department of Justice dismissed Sessions' meetings as being a standard part of his job when he was a senator serving on the Armed Services Committee, but it does not explain Sessions' answer during his confirmation hearing when he said that he "did not have communications with the Russians."

Trump: Sessions 'honest,' but could have testified 'more accurately.' Donald Trump called his embattled Attorney General, Jeff Sessions -- who has come under scrutiny for not disclosing contacts with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. during the campaign -- an "honest man" but said he could have responded "more accurately" at his confirmation hearings. Sessions recused himself today from any current or future investigations involving campaigns for president, but insisted that he answered questions at his confirmation "honest and correct as I understood at the time," he said today, reports ABC's JORDYN PHELPS, BENJAMIN SIEGEL, MEGHAN KENEALLY and ERIN DOOLEY.

Jared Kushner, Mike Flynn met with Russian ambassador during transition. President Donald Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, now a senior White House adviser, and his former national security adviser, Mike Flynn, met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at Trump Tower in December, White House Director of Strategic Communications Hope Hicks confirmed to ABC News, writes ABC's ERIN DOOLEY. The news of the meeting -- first reported by the New York Times -- comes on the heels of Attorney General Jeff Sessions' admission that he also met with Kislyak twice during the campaign, but failed to mention the encounters when questioned under oath during his confirmation hearing.


Hundreds of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula contacts found in Yemen raid, US official says. Some of the valuable intelligence gleaned in the Navy SEAL raid in Yemen on Jan. 28 included hundreds of contacts for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in the region and the West, a U.S. official told ABC News today. The official, familiar with the intelligence gathered from the raid, told ABC News that the information included contacts for hundreds of AQAP sympathizers in the Middle East and in the West, reports ABC's LUIS MARTINEZ. Obtained from computers and cellphones seized in the raid, the contacts included email addresses, messaging app identities and phone numbers, according to the official.

Mexican politician climbs border fence to show a wall 'unnecessary.' A Mexican congressman went to great lengths -- and heights -- Wednesday to illustrate why he believes that President Trump's controversial U.S.-Mexico border wall is "unnecessary" and "totally absurd." Braulio Guerra, a congressman from the state of Queretaro, tweeted photos and a video of himself perched atop a 30-foot tall fence that separates the Mexican border city of Tijuana from the U.S., reports ABC's DAVID CAPLAN. "I was able to scale it, climb it, and sit myself right here," Guerra said in the video. "It would be simple for me to jump into the United States, which shows that it is unnecessary and totally absurd to build a wall."

Sessions used political funds for RNC convention expenses. While at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in August, then-U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions -- who was confirmed as Attorney General in early February -- used political funds from his reelection account to pay for campaign expenses at the RNC, where he met with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, ABC News confirmed Thursday," reports ABC's BENJAMIN SIEGEL. But in a statement Wednesday night, Sessions said, "I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign."

VP Mike Pence used private email for state business as governor. Vice President Mike Pence used private email to conduct state business while he was the governor of Indiana, his spokesman said Thursday night. The revelation came after the Trump campaign railed against former Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton for using private email and a private server to conduct State Department business. Clinton was not charged with a crime after she was alleged to have mishandled classified information, but was reprimanded by the FBI, reports ABC's BENJAMIN SIEGEL and TOM LIDDY. Pence's office rejected the comparison to Clinton because Pence was not using a private server and handling classified information.

Sen. Claire McCaskill criticizes Sessions for denying Russia meetings but fails to mention her own. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo) criticized Attorney General Jeff Sessions today for failing to disclose meetings he held with the Russian ambassador to the United States, but omitted the fact that she had met with the same official twice in recent years, despite insisting otherwise in a statement, reports ABC's ALI ROGIN. “I’ve been on the Senate Armed Services Committee for 10 years, and in that time, have had no call from, or meeting with, the Russian ambassador. Ever. That’s because ambassadors call members of Foreign Relations Committee,” McCaskill said in a statement on Thursday morning.

ANALYSIS: Administration can't shake itself out of Russia pattern. It’s the story that just won’t go away for President Trump and his administration: Russia. Before last night, this week was a good one for the president after a difficult first month for the new administration, says ABC's RICK KLEIN and SHUSHANNAH WALSHE. The drip, drip of Russia news since the election has dampened any potential honeymoon period, and Tuesday’s first Trump address to Congress held the promise of changing that. But with fresh revelations about contacts between Trump’s attorney general and the Russian government, that hope is gone.

What the law says about the perjury allegations against Jeff Sessions. Following the revelation that Attorney General Jeff Sessions met with the Russian ambassador to the United States on two occasions in 2016 despite assertions during his confirmation hearing that he had no contact with the country, some lawmakers and oversight organizations around Washington have questioned whether he committed perjury. ABC's ADAM KELSEY breaks it down.


@jonfavs: Again, I'd love to hear one innocent explanation for why all these senior Trump officials met with Russian officials and then lied about it.

@LMartinezABC: US officials say there were several more airstrikes against AQAP in Yemen overnight

@hughhewitt: Also today: The absurd, almost comical assertion that AG Sessions perjured himself, and the clownish Dems demanding he resign

@IngrahamAngle: The plot thickens: Sessions, at a college mixer, may have sipped a White Russian. #DemocratDesperation

@ktumulty: NYT print edition has given the editorial and op-ed pages a snazzy new redesign.

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