The U.S. Attorney General testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, June 13 regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election. His testimony and the discussion of thereof on media old and new reveal the width of the difference between the perspectives of Right and Left.
What one thinks of Jeff Sessions’ much-anticipated testimony depends upon what one thinks of the underlying issue of the hearing. The right generally believes that the whole Russia-connection issue is a desperate partisan ploy by hacks. This view was taken for example by RedState.com in its articles leading up to the Sessions hearing. The right came away from the hearing with a deepened new respect for the AG.
Left Wing View
On the other hand: those who hold that Putin’s plotting is a serious national-security risk have generally renewed their calls for Sessions’ resignation. Senator Elizabeth Warren was among those engaging in that call on Twitter. Sessions “cannot continue to serve,” she wrote.
As our top law enforcement officer, the AG must be truthful and uphold the law. Sessions cannot continue to serve. He should resign.
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) June 13, 2017
Seth Abramson, a professor at the University of New Hampshire, and a prolific tweeter has long contended that the Trump campaign colluded with Putin’s government to gain office for the former in return for lifting U.S. sanctions against the latter.
Abramson live-tweeted from this perspective throughout the Intelligence Committee hearing, saying for example that no disinterested observer could possibly find Sessions either “credible or candid.”
*No* disinterested observer of this hearing would find Attorney General Sessions’ responses to these critical questions credible or candid.
— Seth Abramson (@SethAbramson) June 13, 2017
On the matter of executive privilege: from the Left, Sessions’refusal to answer some questions, and the ambiguity of whether his refusal is a matter of “executive privilege,” was seen as either confusing or clearly illegal.
Sophia Tesfaye, for Salon, said that Sessions “repeatedly came close to invoking executive privilege regarding his conversations with the president, while agreeing he had no authority to do so.” She called the Henrich exchange a “bewildering dodge.”
Back on twitter, Joy Reid, of MSNBC, saw the exchange simply as a matter of Sen. Heinrich “nailing Sessions,” because “without privilege, there are no rules that prevent him answering Qs.” http://www.politico.com/story/2017/06/13/full-text-jeff-session-trump-russia-testimony-239503
Congressman Ted Lieu (D – CA), who is in his second term representing California’s 33d district, said that Sessions’ refusal to answer questions leaves open the possibility that he is stupid, or the alternative, that he is only “playing stupid.”
Right Wing View
As the hearing wound down in the late afternoon, the ‘unofficial twitter account’ of Tennessee’s Republicans, @TEN_GOP, said that Sessions was proving himself “one of the greatest AGs of our time!”
— Tennessee (@TEN_GOP) June 13, 2017
The National Review headlined one of the themes of right-of-center coverage of the hearing: “getting Trump is [the Democratic Senators’] only interest, not finding or proving collusion with Russia.”
Such a charge was foreseeable. Somewhat less so, though, was the way Sessions tipped over the Watergate-vintage inkwell of “executive privilege.” As is the case with Dr. Rorschach’s inkblots in general, observers see in the resulting blot what their mind has become prepared to see.
Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) asked whether President Trump had “ever expressed his frustration to you regarding your decision to recuse yourself [from Justice Department decisions on a Russia-contacts investigation]?” Sessions declined to reply because that would entail disclosing “private communications” between himself and the President.
Heinrich asked him whether he was invoking executive privilege. Sessions said no, that would be the President’s call and the President had not done so.
But Sessions seemed to revert to something a lot like executive privilege very soon thereafter, saying: “I’m protecting the president’s constitutional right by not giving it away before he has a chance to review it.” Apparently, the first “it” in that sentence refers to executive privilege, and the second “it” refers to the unanswered question.
There was more in this line, and Politico has the full transcript.
The right doesn’t find this puzzling at all. Andrew McCarthy of the National Review said that the AG’s refusal to answer Sen. Martin Henrich’s question was not “an invocation” of executive privilege properly speaking, but it was (and justifiably so) “a pause to enable the president to determine whether to waive the privilege.”