Justice Department can’t take part in Russia probe

There’s just one reason why Russia Ambassador Sergey Kislyak sought a meeting with then U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions in his office on Capitol Hill last September: Sessions was one of the most prominent surrogates in Republican Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

The idea that Kislyak reached out to Sessions because he was a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee is negated by the fact that the ambassador did not meet with most of the other members last year.

Indeed, the Washington Post, which broke the story last week that Sessions had contact with Kislyak on at least two occasions, reported that even Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., did not have the pleasure of the Russian’s company.

Even so, Sessions, who was confirmed last month by the Senate to be the attorney general, insists that the meeting with the ambassador had everything to do with his Armed Services panel assignment – and nothing to do with his involvement in the Trump campaign.

That explanation defies credulity.

To make matters worse, Attorney General Sessions told senators during his confirmation hearing in January that he “did not have communications with the Russians” last year.

But after the Post revealed the two contacts with the ambassador, Sessions attempted to spin what occurred. He said that he thought the question was in reference to his role as a Trump campaign surrogate and not as a member of the Armed Services Committee.

The explanation went over like a lead balloon.

Nonetheless, Sessions announced that he was recusing himself from any Justice Department investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. But he stopped short of agreeing to calls from Democrats in Congress for the Justice Department to wash its hands of the Trump-Russia investigation.

Lacking credibility

However, given Sessions’ ties to the Russian ambassador, any probe conducted by a subordinate will lack credibility.

Indeed, late last week, there were reports that veteran prosecutor Rod Rosenstein, who faces a confirmation hearing in the Senate for the position of deputy attorney general, will take over any Trump-Russia probe once he’s on board.

But some Democrats worry there won’t be a clean enough break from embattled Attorney General Sessions if Rosenstein or anyone else from the office is involved in the investigation.

The Democrats have reason to be apprehensive.

After all, President Trump, who has conceded that Russia was responsible for the hacking of Democrats’ emails during the presidential campaign, has stopped short of pointing the finger of blame at President Vladimir Putin.

U.S. intelligence agencies have made it clear that Putin and his henchmen orchestrated a hidden campaign to influence America’s presidential election in favor of Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Clinton, as U.S. secretary of state in the administration of former President Barack Obama, was harshly critical of the Putin regime and Russia’s expansionist policies.

Trump, on the other hand, has shown a willingness to turn a blind eye to Putin’s iron-fisted rule because he sees Russia as an ally of the U.S. in the war on Islamic extremism in Syria.

But while the president does not seem overly concerned about Russia’s involvement in the presidential election, there are Republicans in Congress who are deeply disturbed by the attack on the very foundation of American democracy.

Sens. McCain and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., are committed to punishing Russia for its interference in the election.

The Senate and House intelligence committees are investigating, but there are legitimate concerns that the Republican majority may not be willing to clash with President Trump if the evidence reveals contacts between the Russians and the Trump campaign.

Given the political undercurrents of this matter, a special prosecutor is warranted so the attorney general and his staff are kept out of the loop.

The Trump-Russia probe is not a witch hunt.

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