GONZO’S WORLD: THE “KING OF OBFUSCATION” “STONEWALLS” THE US SENATE! — “He Don’t Know Nothin’ ‘Bout Nothin’” — But He Can’t Tell You Why He Can’t Talk About Why He Doesn’t Know! — And, He Bristles With Righteous Indignation If Anyone Accuses Him Of Not Being Very Forthcoming!

What Jeff Sessions wouldn’t say was more revealing than what he did
How the Senate Judiciary Committee grilled Jeff Sessions

THE BIG IDEA: Jeff Sessions was the personification of a hostile witness whenever a Democratic lawmaker questioned him during a contentious five-hour oversight hearing on Wednesday.

The attorney general set the tone early in his first appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee since his January confirmation. “I can neither assert executive privilege nor can I disclose today the content of my confidential conversations with the president,” Sessions said in his opening statement.

There were several yes-or-no questions that should have been easy for Sessions to answer, but he refused. Sometimes what someone will not say is more interesting than what they do.

THE SPECIAL COUNSEL:

— Sessions said he has not been interviewed by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. But has his team requested an interview? “I don’t think so,” the attorney general told Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), reflecting the cautiousness he showed all day. “I don’t know … I don’t want to come in here and be trapped. … I will check and let you know.” Later, Sessions announced: “My staff handed me a note that I have not been asked for an interview at this point.”

— The attorney general declined to express personal confidence in Mueller, a former FBI director: “I think he will produce the work in a way he thinks is correct and history will judge,” Sessions said.

— He also declined to say whether he would resign if President Trump tried to fire Mueller. Sessions said getting rid of Mueller would be up to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein because he has recused himself. (Rosenstein was interviewed by Mueller’s team this summer.)

Sessions says he can’t disclose ‘confidential conversations’ with Trump

“THE CLOUD”:

— Sessions declined to discuss anything the president told him before firing James Comey. He pointedly refused to answer multiple questions about whether Trump told him that getting rid of the FBI director would “lift the cloud” of the Russia investigation. “I do not confirm or deny the existence of any communication with the president,” Sessions replied. Yet he didn’t hesitate to defend the president’s dubious rationale for axing Comey, which was the former FBI director’s alleged mishandling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation.

— If Trump hadn’t mentioned “the cloud,” why not just say so? In sworn testimony this June, Comey recounted a phone call he received from Trump at the FBI on March 30: “He described the Russia investigation as ‘a cloud’ that was impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country. He said he had nothing to do with Russia, had not been involved with hookers in Russia, and had always assumed he was being recorded when in Russia. He asked what we could do to ‘lift the cloud.’ … He finished by stressing ‘the cloud’ was interfering with his ability to make deals for the country and said he hoped I could find a way to get out that he wasn’t being investigated.”

Trump called again on April 11 to ask for an update on when Comey was going to announce publicly that he was not personally under investigation. “I replied that I had passed his request to the Acting Deputy Attorney General, but I had not heard back,” the former FBI director said. “He replied that ‘the cloud’ was getting in the way of his ability to do his job. … That was the last time I spoke with President Trump.”

— Sessions also would not say whether he was aware of Trump’s draft letter detailing some of the real reasons that he wanted to remove Comey, which Mueller has been reviewing.

Donald Trump and Joe Arpaio campaign together in Iowa last year. (Mary Altaffer/Associated Press)

Donald Trump and Joe Arpaio campaign together in Iowa last year. (Mary Altaffer/Associated Press)

PARDONS:

— Can the president pardon someone under investigation by Mueller before they’ve been charged? “Well, the pardon power is quite broad,” Sessions replied. “I have not studied it. I don’t know whether that would be appropriate or not, frankly.” Pressed further, he added later: “My understanding is a pardon can be issued before a conviction has occurred.” (He said that he’d like to reply with more detail in writing. That was one of his go-to lines throughout the day, though Democrats have complained for months that the Justice Department doesn’t respond to their letters.)

— Could the president pardon himself? Sessions again said he hadn’t studied the issue.

— Did Trump discuss pardoning Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio with Sessions before he announced it? “I cannot comment on the private conversations I’ve had with the president,” he replied.

— What was the process that led to Arpaio’s pardon? “I don’t know that I remember or I know it precisely,” Sessions dodged.

Sessions: ‘I don’t know that I can make a blanket commitment’ to not jail reporters

JAILING REPORTERS:

— Will he commit to not putting reporters in jail for doing their jobs? “Well, I don’t know that I can make a blanket commitment to that effect,” Sessions replied to Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). “But I would say this: We have not taken any aggressive action against the media at this point. But we have matters that involve the most serious national security issues, that put our country at risk, and we will utilize the authorities that we have, legally and constitutionally, if we have to.”

Durbin slams Sessions for wanting safer cities, withholding police grants

LGBT DISCRIMINATION:

— Two weeks ago, Sessions sent a memo to all federal agencies on “protections for religious liberty.” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) asked about it: “Could a Social Security Administration employee refuse to accept or process spousal or survivor benefits paperwork for a surviving same-sex spouse?

After four seconds of silence, Sessions replied: “That is something I have never thought would arise, but I would have to give you a written answer to that, if you don’t mind.”

Durbin followed up: Would the guidance Sessions released permit a federal contractor to “refuse to provide services to LGBTQ people, including in emergencies, without risk of losing federal contracts?”

“I’m not sure that is covered by it,” Sessions said, “but I will look.”

“The questions were hardly out of left field — or unfamiliar to the Justice Department,” BuzzFeed notes, adding that the Justice Department has been declining to answer them for weeks.

— The evasiveness played out on a host of other policy questions:

Did Sessions talk with the Texas attorney general about DACA before convincing Trump to end the program? He said such a conversation, if it happened, would be tantamount to “work product” and thus privileged.

Is there any evidence to support Trump’s claim on Monday that the Cuban government was behind the sonic attacks on U.S. diplomats in Havana? “I’m just not able to comment,” Sessions replied.

Democrats noted that Sessions, when he was a member of the committee, would never have tolerated one of Barack Obama’s appointees being so evasive.

— Republicans mostly rallied to Sessions’s defense. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, noted that Eric Holder refused to turn over documents relating to the Fast and Furious program by asserting executive privilege. Though, Grassley added, “The American people have a right to know why (Comey) was fired.”

Jeff Sessions testifies. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Jeff Sessions testifies. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Sessions stumbles through questions about communicating with Russia

RUSSIA CONTACTS:

— The main headline out of the hearing is that the nation’s chief law enforcement officer is still getting his story straight on his interactions with the Russians: “Sessions offered a slightly new wrinkle Wednesday, asserting that he may have discussed Trump campaign policy positions in his 2016 conversations with (Ambassador Sergey) Kislyak,” Matt Zapotosky, Sari Horwitz and Devlin Barrett report. “The attorney general said it was ‘possible’ that ‘some comment was made about what Trump’s positions were,’ though he also said, ‘I don’t think there was any discussion about the details of the campaign.’The Post reported in July that Kislyak reported back to his superiors in the Kremlin that the two had discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow. Sessions has previously said he did not ‘recall any specific political discussions’ …”

— Another significant admission: Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) asked whether the U.S. government is doing enough to prevent Russian interference in future elections. “We’re not,” Sessions responded.

— In the testiest exchange of the day, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) sparred with Sessions over whether he told the truth during his confirmation hearing:

Al Franken Cross-Examines Jeff Sessions On Lying About Russian Meeting

HOW IT’S PLAYING:

— On the left:

  • Slate: “Jeff Sessions Is Using Phony Executive Privilege to Shield Trump, and GOP Senators Are Letting Him.”
  • Esquire: “Jeff Sessions Is Not Donald Trump’s Lawyer. And that suggestion could be a license for corruption.”
  • Mother Jones: “Justice Department Has Communicated With Controversial Election Commission, Sessions Confirms. The revelation fuels concerns over voter suppression efforts and could raise legal questions.”
  • The Nation: “Jeff Sessions Keeps Lying to the Senate. Sessions once claimed he never met with the Russians. Well, sorta, kinda, maybe. It depends…”
  • Los Angeles Times editorial page: “Trump and Sessions are still telling different stories about Comey.”

— On the right:

  • Daily Caller: “Sessions Admits The Wall Won’t Run Full Length Of The Border.”
  • Breitbart: “Sessions: ‘We’re Not’ Doing Enough to Prepare for Future Info Interference By Russia and Other Countries.”
  • Fox News: “Sessions tangles with Durbin over Chicago violence.”
  • Washington Examiner: “Sessions is confident Trump’s travel ban will win in Supreme Court.”
  • Washington Free Beacon: “Franken, Sessions Spar Over Time Restrictions During Russia Hearing: ‘No, No, No.’”

— All politics is local:

Here’s a link to Hohmann’s complete rundown, which contains lots of other news beyond today’s “Gonzo Report:”

https://s2.washingtonpost.com/camp-rw/?e=amVubmluZ3MxMkBhb2wuY29t&s=59e886a9fe1ff6159ed350e0

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Gonzo would have been a “perfect fit” in the Nixon Administration which gave birth to the term, “stonewalling!”

Let’s see, Gonzo’s “progressed” from saying under oath that he had no contact whatsoever with any Russians during the campaign, to later “clarifying” that he met with none other than the Russian Ambassador during the campaign (while at least implying that these meetings were in his capacity as a Senator, not a campaign official), to saying that he “may have discussed Trump campaign policy positions in his 2016 conversations with (Ambassador Sergey) Kislyak.” Gosh, that sounds to me like enough to sustain an “adverse credibility finding” in U.S. Immigration Court if said by an immigrant!

But, Gonzo says it’s all the fault of bullies like Sen. Al Franken for springing “trick” questions on him. After all, who would have thought that a major figure in the Trump Campaign (one of his earliest, most vocal, and proudest supporters) would be asked nasty questions about the Russia probe?

Gonzo basically refused to discuss the dark implications of his war on LGBTQ Americans, while allowing as how he might target reporters in the future (this Dude recently made speeches on the First Amendment?) if necessary to stop national security leaks.

And, on DACA, Tal Kopan reports for CNN:

“Attorney General Jeff Sessions told senators they have an “opportunity to do something historic” on immigration on Wednesday as he was pressed repeatedly on the administration’s move to terminate a popular protection for young undocumented immigrants.

“We have got to have more than just an amnesty,” Sessions said in his opening remarks. “We need a good improvement in the illegality that’s going on, and there is an opportunity right now, I’m telling you, an opportunity to do something historic.”

Despite multiple follow-ups, Sessions did not diverge much from the remarks, repeatedly telling lawmakers the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was in their hands.

Testifying before the Senate judiciary committee, the longtime immigration hardliner was asked by senators from both parties about the administration’s plans for DACA, which President Donald Trump has opted to end, citing Sessions’ recommendation.

. . . .

Sessions did not lay out details of what the administration may want to do for the Obama-era program, which protects young undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children from deportation. Sessions has long railed against the program and once again expressed his belief that the executive action was unconstitutional.

Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, though, who has pursued legislation that would offer DACA-like protections for nearly two decades, pressed Sessions on how he could recommend to Trump that the program is unconstitutional and would be found the same in the courts when the Justice Department still maintains a 2014 Office of Legal Counsel memo on its website that found DACA would be constitutional.

“I believe this is accurate, that the so-called approval of DACA by OLC, Office of Legal Counsel, was based on the caveat or the requirement that any action that’s taken be done on an individual basis,” Sessions said, then appeared to mix up court precedent on the issue.

Sessions said a court had struck down the program because individual decisions were not made, but was seemingly referring to a decision made about an expansion of the program to parents. Courts have not found DACA to be unconstitutional to date. 

Durbin noted that each DACA applicant is evaluated individually. All go through background checks before receiving the two-year permits.

Growing frustrated at Session’s answers, Durbin referenced his former colleague’s past on the other side of the dais. “I believe this is just about the moment that Sen. Sessions would have blown up,” Durbin said. 

Later in the hearing, Hawaii Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono, also a lawyer, asked Sessions if he considered any due process or “bait and switch” issues in recommending the program be ended, since DACA recipients willingly gave the Department of Homeland Security their information in exchange for protection when the program was created. Sessions said he didn’t believe it was discussed.

“It’s a valid issue,” Sessions said. “You’re right to raise it.”

But when Hirono pressed Sessions on what might happen to the individuals covered under the program if it ends in six months, Sessions deflected.

“The answer to that is in your hands,” he said. “Congress has the ability to deal with this problem in any number of ways.” He reiterated he did not support “simply an amnesty” without additional anti-illegal immigration measures, but said “if we work together, something can be done on that.”

Here’s the link to Tal’s report:

http://www.cnn.com/2017/10/18/politics/jeff-sessions-hearing-daca-remarks/index.html

In other words, Sessions continued to assert his conclusory, essentially “law free” position that DACA is unconstitutional. He didn’t even know which case he was wtalking about (and it’s not that he didn’t have any idea that Durbin and others were going to quiz him on DACA). At the same time, he can’t bring himself to acknowledge that the DACA young people have been a great boon to the US and to our economy and that they deserve a path to citizenship. Indeed, if Gonzo had his way and the “Dreamers” were actually removed from the US, it would actually “TANK” our economy by reducing our GNP by nearly one-half trillion dollars! See CNBC, John W. Schoen, “DACA deportations could cost US economy more than $400 billion,” available at this link:

https://www.cnbc.com/2017/09/05/daca-deportations-could-cost-us-economy-more-than-400-billion.html

And, Gonzo goes on to press his absurd demand that any relief from “Dreamers” be “offset” by  Trump’s “off the wall” immigration restrictionist program. Dreamers are contributing over $400 billion to our GNP, so what’s there to “offset?” We should be happy to have them as permanent members of our society.

No, the real problem here is that the Dreamers and their families (who also are contributing to our society and economy) should have been screened and admitted through our legal immigration system. The solution isn’t to extract a “penalty” from the Dreamers, but rather to expand our legal immigration system so that future Dreamers and their hard-working productive families can be properly screened and legally admitted into the United States in the first place!

That Gonzo, others in the Administration, and the “restrictionist wing” of the GOP keep pushing in exactly the opposite direction is truly reprehensible. The real  “national debate” that we should be having on immigration is how to get Dreamers and other law-abiding undocumented residents on a track to full integration into our society, how many MORE legal immigrants we should admit each year, and how we should select them to achieve the most both for our country’s future and for those vibrant, hard-working, and much-needed future immigrants that we should be attracting! Legal immigration is a good thing, to be valued and welcomed! It’s NOT something to be feared and restricted as Gonzo and his cronies would have us believe! And, by converting most of the flow of “undocumented migrants” into “legal immigrants” we would reduce the need for DHS enforcement directed at the immigrant community. Those resources could be redirected at removing the “real bad guys.”

 

PWS

10-19-17

BRET STEPHENS IN THE NYT: DREAMERS & MIGRANTS (DOCUMENTED OR NOT) MAKE AMERICA GREAT!

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/01/opinion/daca-trump-dreamers-immigration.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=opinion-c-col-left-region%C2%AEion=opinion-c-col-left-region&WT.nav=opinion-c-col-left-region

Stephens writes:

“A common American conceit is that we attract brilliant foreigners because we have brilliant things: great universities, vast financial resources, a dynamic economy, high-tech. That gets things mostly backward. It’s because we have brilliant foreigners that we have those things in the first place. Google. Comcast. eBay. Kraft. Pfizer. AT&T. They all had immigrants as founders.

Overall, a 2016 study by the Partnership for the New American Economy found that 40 percent of all Fortune 500 companies were founded or co-founded by immigrants or the children of immigrants. Taken together they employed 19 million people and had revenues of $4.8 trillion.

Opponents of a liberal immigration policy often insist they welcome legal immigrants and only object to illegal ones. Rubbish. The immigration reform bill introduced in Congress this year by Republicans Tom Cotton and David Perdue and endorsed by Donald Trump aims to cut legal immigration by half.

Restrictionists also argue that we need to favor newcomers with “skills” and educational credentials. More rubbish. Jan Koum arrived in the U.S. from Ukraine in 1992 as a 16-year-old boy with his mother, living off food stamps. She worked as a babysitter. He later dropped out of college. In 2009 he came up with an idea for a mobile messaging app. Five years later Facebook purchased WhatsApp for $22 billion.

Should it make any difference to WhatsApp’s billion-plus users that Koum arrived in the United States legally? And if it turned out that he hadn’t, should he be required to leave the country, presumably so he can pay income tax — and create jobs — in his native Ukraine?

That would be self-defeating. But it’s the fate that may soon await 800,000 or so young people who were brought without visas to the United States as children, grew up in the country, in some cases only speak English, and now face deportation because the Trump administration seems poised to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program that allowed them to stay in school or their jobs.

The nativist wing of the right thinks DACA is unconstitutional. That’s not clear, though it would be on firmer legal ground if Congress turned DACA into law by passing Senators Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin’s Dream Act. In the meantime, allowing these young dreamers to stay is ordinary humanity and enlightened policy. If just 10 of those 800,000 turn into future Jan Koums, the program will have more than paid for itself.

 

It isn’t the whole truth to say that immigrants come to our shores because of our wealth. They also come in hope of being welcomed by a country whose astounding faith in human possibility includes a faith in them, however poor, unkempt — or even undocumented — they may sometimes be.

Lose that faith, and lose what’s best about America, too.”

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Read the complete op-ed at the link.

Stephens doesn’t know squat about climate change. But, he does understand the overriding value of immigration, whether documented or not, to America and our future as a great nation. He also exposes the bogus rationales employed by supporters of the RAISE Act to “dress up” their White Nationalist agenda.

PWS

09-02-17

“Duh” ARTICLE OF THE WEEK: Guess What? Immigration Policy Is Complex And Difficult — The President Should Seek Some Decent Advice!

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trumps-hardline-immigration-rhetoric-runs-into-obstacles–including-trump/2017/02/17/37ba2218-f537-11e6-b9c9-e83fce42fb61_story.html?hpid=hp_rhp-top-table-main_trumpimmigration-8pm%3Ahomepage%2Fstory&utm_term=.f7b4a8ac9f52

David Nakamura reports in the Washington Post:

“The Trump administration’s attempts to translate the president’s hard-line campaign rhetoric on immigration into reality have run into two major roadblocks: the complexity of reshaping a sprawling immigration system and a president who has not been clear about how he wants to change it.

In his first four weeks in office, President Trump has sought to use his executive powers to punch through Washington’s legislative and bureaucratic hurdles and make quick progress on pledges to crack down on illegal immigrants and tighten border control.

But Trump has been vague about his goals and how to achieve them and his aides have struggled to interpret his orders.

The resulting turmoil has included a successful legal challenge halting his immigration travel ban, fears among congressional Republicans over the White House’s more extreme measures and widespread anxiety among immigrant communities across the country.

The latest flash point erupted Friday over reports that the Department of Homeland Security was considering mobilizing 100,000 National Guard troops to help round up millions of unauthorized immigrants in 11 states, including some such as Colorado and Oregon far from the southern border.

President Trump said at a press conference Thursday that deciding the fate of illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children is “one of the most difficult subjects I have.” (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)”

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It’s not difficult for anyone who understands the complex field of immigration to see that when you surround yourself with tone-deaf advisors like Jeff Sessions, Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, Kris Kobach, and Rep. Steve King your immigration policies are headed straight onto the rocks, where they likely will remain aground for the rest of the Administration.

So, you’re President Donald Trump. You want to make an impact in immigration, and also have everybody love what you’re doing to “make America great.”

Then, why not sit down with some Republicans who have thought carefully about the issue, like, for example: House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senator John McCain, Senator Lindsey Graham, Senator Jeff Flake, Congresswoman Illeana Ros-Lehtinen, Senator Marco Rubio, the Koch Brothers, former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson, and Ohio Governor John Kasich? Also, it would be a good idea to reach across the aisle and speak with folks like Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senator Dick Durban, Senator Bernie Sanders, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Representative Henry Cuellar who have worked thoughtfully on immigration issues. And, why not invite DHS Secretary John Kelly, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary James Mattis, Labor Secretary Alex Acosta (assuming confirmation), and, of course, Vice President Mike Pence to the table too?

Think about how refugees, legal immigrants, and those who are already here and in our workforce can be melded in the best way possible to tap America’s full potential, create meaningful opportunities for all Americans, increase productivity and innovation, and combat the looming problem of future labor shortages. Also, consider how a more realistic, expanded legal immigration system could be a critical tool for discouraging illegal migration, maintaining control of our borders, and insuring national security without over-investing in the (usually ineffective and always expensive) quasi-militarization of our borders.

As one of my colleagues used to tell me when I got going too fast, “Relax, it’s a marathon not a sprint.” There is still plenty of time for President Trump to get the immigration issue right for America. But, it’s not going to happen unless he expands his circle of advisers to include those with a more positive and realistic view of  immigration’s essential role in making America great.

PWS

02/17/17

 

Sessions Gives Few Specifics About Immigration Role During First Day of Hearings — Offers Neither Support Nor Solution For Dreamers, But Doesn’t Consider Them Removal Priorities — Defends Hard Line Positions, But Says He Would Like To Work Together On Solving Difficult Problem In Compassionate Manner

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/jeff-sessions-dick-durbin-immigration_us_58751aa5e4b02b5f858b5c4a

“The attorney general is not in charge of most deportation efforts ― that falls to the Department of Homeland Security. But should he be confirmed, Sessions would still have plenty of power to affect immigration matters, from shaping the resources immigration courts receive and how they make decisions to pressuring local law enforcement to assist in deportation efforts.

Sessions said that Durbin was “wrong” about what his record indicates he’d do as attorney general, but he also defended his support of limiting immigration and increasing deportations.

“I believe the American people spoke clearly in this election,” Sessions said. “I believe they agreed with my basic view and I think it’s a good view, a decent view, a solid legal view for the United States of America that we create a lawful system of immigration that allows people to apply to this country and if they’re accepted, they get in; if they’re not accepted, they don’t get in.”

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Senator Sessions seemed neither sympathetic to, nor understanding of, the difficult situation of “Dreamers.”  On the plus side, he seemed to recognize that the Dreamers, and similarly situated individuals who have successfully integrated into the community of the United States, probably aren’t going anywhere, but offered no specific suggestions as to how they should be treated if DACA is withdrawn.

I was somewhat encouraged by the Senator’s recognition of the complexity of the immigration issue — something many enforcement-oriented individuals refuse to acknowledge — the need to work together to solve problems, ideally through legislation, and his use of the term “compassionate.”  He also seems to appreciate that being the Attorney General of the United States is a markedly different role than representing Alabama in the Senate  — it’s a bigger picture with a much border, more diverse constituency.

As far as I can tell from reading press accounts, Senator Sessions was neither asked about nor did he reveal his plans for what is probably going to be his biggest problem when he assumes the leadership of the Department of Justice — the total meltdown of the U.S. Immigration Court System.

PWS

01-11-17