The first few things we read: Yesterday's testimony by Jeff Sessions was a bit underwhelming.
He said he didn't collude with the Russians or even engage in treason. Rightly or wrongly, he refused to talk about his discussions with the president, Donald J. Trump.
Generally speaking, Sessions doesn't always seem to be the sharpest knife in the drawer. Then too, we were saddled with the typically haphazard, disjointed congressional questioning, based on the idea that every member of the panel must get his or her five minutes.
(Yesterday's questioning was much better than normal.)
That said, a great deal of confusion and dissembling emerged from yesterday's event. How sad can our "journalism" be? Consider two of the first pieces we perused this morning.
We started our day at TPM, where we quickly spied an intriguing headline. Alice Ollstein wrote the piece. The pleasing headline said this:
"What Really Happened At The Mayflower? Sessions Gives Conflicting Answers"Yay yay yay yay yay yay yay! Sessions had been been caught giving "conflicting answers!"
Did Sessions actually give conflicting answers about the event at the Mayflower? We liberals long to say that he did! Setting the scene, Ollstein started like this:
OLLSTEIN (6/13/17): In his highly charged hearing Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions gave the Senate Intelligence Committee several variations of what happened at the Mayflower Hotel on April 27, 2016, when then-candidate Donald Trump gave a Russia-friendly foreign policy speech attended by a crowd that included Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.Dear God! Kislyak and Sessions were actually in the same room that day! And not only that! According to that headline, Sessions gave "conflicting answers" about "what really happened!"
At a VIP reception following the speech, Kislyak, Trump, and Sessions were all in the same room, but whether they spoke and what they spoke about remains in dispute.
Ousted FBI Director James Comey reportedly told the committee in a classified session last week that U.S. intelligence agents intercepted communications between Kisklyak and Russian officials back in Moscow that suggested the ambassador and Sessions met on the sidelines of that event—a charge Sessions and the Justice Department have denied.
But Sessions’ various answers throughout Tuesday’s hearing did little to clear up the confusion.
Josh was giving us what we want as he begged us for more subscriptions. Sadly, though, the passage shown below is supposed to contain those "conflicting answers."
There are no such conflicts here:
OLLSTEIN (continying directly): In his opening statement, Sessions broadly declared: “I did not have any private meetings nor do I recall any conversations with any Russian officials at the Mayflower Hotel. I did not attend any meetings at that event.”As any competent human can see, those accounts all say the same thing:
But later, when questioned by Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), Sessions said that “it’s conceivable that [a conversation with Kislyak] occurred” but that it included “nothing improper.”
Then, in response to questions from Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), Sessions said: “I didn’t have any formal meeting with him. I’m confident of that. But I may have had an encounter during the reception.”
“I have no recollection of a discussion with the Russian ambassador,” Sessions later added, though he allowed such a discussion may have occurred.
According to Sessions, he didn't have a private meeting with Kislyak that day (or with anyone else). He says he doesn't remember having a conversation with Kislyak as people were milling around, but he says it's possible that he did.
Needless to say, it's always possible that those statements are false. But there's nothing confusing about any of that. There are no "conflicting answers."
But so what? At TPM, we liberals were given the gruel we love, right there in that headline. The same thing happened when we proceeded to Slate.
At Slate, we spied another tribally pleasing headline. In fact, it was a pair of headlines. The thrilling banners said this:
Sessions Sticks to His FictionYay yay yay yay yay yay yay! Sessions was "still lying," we were told. He had "stuck to his fiction!"
Why the attorney general is still lying about James Comey's firing.
The piece was written by Leon Neyfakh. Thrillingly, headlines included, the excited scribe started like this:
NEYFAKH (6/13/17): Sessions Sticks to His FictionAccording to Neyfakh, Sessions insisted, time and time again, that "it had been Comey’s handling of the Clinton investigation that was responsible for his ouster after all."
Why the attorney general is still lying about James Comey's firing.
The first story we heard about why Donald Trump fired James Comey as FBI director was that he’d done so on the recommendation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, both of whom were emphatically disgusted by Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation. Two days later, on May 11, Trump himself told NBC’s Lester Holt that he’d been planning to fire Comey long before Rosenstein and Sessions laid out their complaints, and that he’d done so for his own reasons. “When I decided to just do it,” Trump told Holt, “I said to myself, I said, 'You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story—it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.’ ”
Based on his performance at Tuesday’s Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, Jeff Sessions seems to have committed himself to pretending that interview never happened. Time and time again during the roughly three-hour hearing, Sessions insisted that the original story of the Comey firing had been the true one—that despite everything we now know, including the fact that Trump bragged to Russian officials in the Oval Office that firing Comey had relieved him of “great pressure” stemming from the Russia investigation, it had been Comey’s handling of the Clinton investigation that was responsible for his ouster after all.
We were surprised to read that. We didn't remember any time when Sessions said that Donald Trump fired Comey because of the Clinton fandango. And sure enough! Despite the claim that Sessions insisted on this again and again, Neyfakh quotes no examples of any such statement by Sessions.
Sessions "insisted" on this "lie" again and again! Until you read the rest of Neyfakh's piece, which provides zero examples.
Did Sessions "give conflicting answers?" Based on Ollstein's presentation, no.
Did he "lie," "time and time again," in the manner Neyfakh alleges? Neyfakh quotes zero examples.
Neyfakh is ten years out of Harvard. Ollstein is seven years out of Oberlin. (We don't know who put the headline on her report.)
Reading work of this type, we wonder about our basic human capacities at times of tribal war. And let's be clear—this type of work was the rule, not the exception, all over cable last night. We saw horrible, false or misleading work by people of all descriptions.
We've been at this task for nineteen years. Our experience has left us with one basic meta-question:
Ignore what Aristotle said. To what extent can we humans be said to be "rational" at all?
This afternoon: When Donald J. Trump made an accurate claim, our big stars swore that he was wrong (and that Comey would never do that)