The scandal of Trump Russiagate that is currently plaguing the Trump Administration is not one that is going to fade to black anytime soon. Yesterday, news broke that Donald Trump’s Cabinet Pick for Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, had reportedly been in contact with Russia during the election campaign, while he was supporting Donald Trump on the campaign trail.
CBC News out of Canada reports on something else that happened yesterday with Trump Russiagate and the new White House. Donald Trump was advised, and all White House staff were advised, to preserve any materials related to Russia and the election campaign.
The underlying message of this request is, do not be deleting what could become evidence in the coming days. The message to Donald Trump and White House staff on Trump Russia related materials came from the White House legal counsel. The notice came in the form of a memo from White House counsel to top aides in the White House, and it was not the first notice that the White House had received on the matter.
Last week, Senate Democrats asked both the White House and law enforcement agencies related to the investigations of the Trump Russia scandal to preserve all materials. Those materials include any and all contacts that the Trump Administration or the Trump campaign would have had with Russian government officials and their associates. These are no longer allegations as we know of at least two people related to the Donald Trump campaign, Michael Flynn and Jeff Sessions, had contact. The biggest question being asked by lawmakers and investigators right now is, who else?
Yesterday’s memo by the White House counsel, which represents and preserves the legal matters of the White House, not Donald Trump individually, is not the only sign that high-ranking officials were concerned about the preserving of evidence related to the Trump Russia scandal. The New York Times also reported yesterday that the Obama White House undertook many steps in the days leading up to the transition to the new Trump White House to preserve evidence and leave an “evidence trail” for law enforcement and government on the Trump Russia scandal before leaving the White House.
The New York Times writes, “At the Obama White House, Mr. Trump’s statements stoked fears among some that intelligence could be covered up or destroyed – or its sources exposed – once power changed hands. What followed was a push to preserve the intelligence that underscored the deep anxiety with which the White House and American intelligence agencies had come to view the threat from Moscow.”
CBC News reports that the Senate Intelligence Committee is currently investigating the role of Russia in Elections 2016 and has also asked multiple agencies to preserve records.
The most recent memo that crossed the desk of top White House aides yesterday is asking for material to be preserved from the time that Trump took office, from all of those who worked on his campaign, and of material relevant to the election. A Trump aide maintains that the suggestion of nefarious connections between Trump and Russia are “false and politically motivated attacks.”
However, the news that the White House is being asked not to delete or destroy evidence arrives on the same day that news came to light that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had talks with a Russian ambassador. In his role as Senator before taking on the role of the highest law enforcement officer in the land, talks with Russian ambassadors or any foreign ambassador for that matter were not uncommon.
But Jeff Sessions was asked directly by Senator Al Franken during his confirmation hearing if he had ever had any contact with Russia. Jeff Sessions said he had not. That exchange during Jeff Sessions confirmation hearing can be viewed here.
— John Aravosis (@aravosis) March 2, 2017
Staffers of the White House have alleged that they are not aware of any Russia evidence, or that materials are not being preserved. But CBC reports that Senate Democrat leader Chuck Schumer says, “There is real concern that some in the administration may try to cover up its ties to Russia by deleting emails, texts, and other records that could shine a light on those connections. These records are likely to be the subject of the executive branch as well as congressional investigations and must be preserved.”
Senator Schumer appears to be suggesting that hearings and investigations at the Congressional level will occur relative to the Trump Russia scandal. It is unclear where the “real concern” is that would lead high ranking Congress members, White House counsel, and the Senate Intelligence committee, to believe evidence would be destroyed.
But as the New York Times reports, they are not the only ones with that “real concern” as the Obama Administration reportedly took many steps in their final days to leave evidence trails in the event that Trump Russia related evidence went missing.
At present, two of the highest committees in government have launched investigations into the Trump Russia scandal. The House Intelligence Committee is investigating the allegations of collusion between Trump and Russia during the campaign, according to Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff as reported by CBC News. The Senate Intelligence Committee is also investigating the same matters.
Additionally, many Democrats are calling for a special prosecutor and an independent outside investigation into the Trump Russia scandal in order to avoid any potential conflicts of interest. The request to preserve evidence has now gone public on the heels of the Jeff Sessions scandal. Sean Spicer, Press Secretary for the White House, says there is no evidence on the Trump Russia matter at all, and that there is no Trump Russia matter.
The New York Times reports that he said, “The only piece of information that has come to light is that political appointees in the Obama Administration have sought to create a false narrative to make an excuse for their own defeat in the election. There continues to be no there, there.”
But it is not just Democrats seeking this information. As the Washington Post reported last week, a high-ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, has said the Senate Intelligence Committee is pushing hard for answers. She also said that if necessary, the Committee would subpoena Donald Trump’s tax returns.
The Obama Administration reportedly left a trail of evidence for committees such as the Senate Intelligence Committee to “ensure that as many people as possible inside government could see it,” reports the New York Times. Even meetings were set up in a way where questions asked would lead to answers that would go on the record, that would be archived, and eventually unearthed by investigators should an investigation into Trump Russia ensue.
Today, two high-level committees in government can confirm they have started investigations as the Trump White House is being advised by legal counsel to the White House to preserve evidence. The Trump Russia scandal is oft compared to the President Nixon Watergate scandal. It was the refusal to release the Watergate tapes that ultimately led to President Nixon’s resignation and first article of impeachment by the House of Representatives.
From a Watergate website, on July 24, 1974, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that President Nixon must turn over the tapes of 64 White House conversations and unanimously rejected Nixon’s claims that he held executive privilege that barred him from doing so. On July 27, 1974, the House Judiciary Committee passed the first three articles of impeachment on President Nixon. August 8, 1974, marked the resignation of President Nixon.
The intelligence community has been just as eager to preserve evidence related to Trump Russiagate and has reportedly worked to keep the information at low classification levels in order to ensure a higher readership across the government, reports the New York Times. All information that has been procured thus far has been uploaded to a site known as Intellipedia, a “secret wiki” inside the intelligence community.
The Obama Administration also reportedly engaged in efforts to pass sensitive information to members of Congress. Just days before January 20, Inauguration Day, Senator Benjamin Cardin from Maryland received a cache of documents marked “secret” that allegedly detailed Russian efforts to intervene in the election in a way that intentionally harmed Hillary Clinton’s chance of winning the White House.
The documents were received by request of Mr. Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relationships Committee. The Republicans on the panel have also seen the documents. The New York Times also says that “more than a half dozen” current and former officials worked to preserve intelligence in the days leading up to Inauguration Day.
Much of this information is related to Trump’s alleged Russian connections, and the claims that key campaign officials had contact with Russia. Jeff Sessions has said that he had no contact with Russia outside of his scope of his work on the Foreign Relationships Committee. But he did not disclose this information in his confirmation hearing, and his alleged contacts occurred during the campaign.
Ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff said in a statement that if these reports are accurate, “It is essential that he recuse himself from any role in the investigation of Trump campaign ties to the Russians. This is not even a close call. It is a must.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has gone one step further and outright called for Jeff Session’s resignation saying in a statement, “After lying under oath to Congress about his own communications with the Russians, the Attorney General must resign. He is not fit to serve as the top law enforcement officer of our country.”
The Washington Post also reports that senior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee Senator Ron Wyden is demanding a special prosecutor to investigate the Trump Russia scandal, “given AG Sessions’ false statements about contacts with Russia.” House Oversight and Government Affairs ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings has also called for Sessions’ resignation.
— House OversightDems (@OversightDems) March 2, 2017
“When Senator Sessions testified under oath that ‘I did not have communications with the Russians’ his statement was demonstrably false, yet he let it stand for weeks. Attorney General Sessions should resign immediately, and there is no longer any question that we need a truly independent commission to investigate this issue.”
The New York Times reports that Republican Senator Lindsey Graham agrees on the matter of Sessions recusing himself from any investigation, saying, “It is clear to me that Jeff Sessions, who is my dear friend, cannot make this decision about Trump.”
The Washington Post reported on February 22 that the investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee into Trump Russiagate appeared to be “kicking into high gear” after the committee met with the FBI for a two-hour briefing. The ranking member of the committee, Republican Senator Collins of Maine, said the briefing was “helpful.”
She also said, “All of us are determined to get the answers. In some ways this is a counterintelligence cooperation – in many ways – and that’s what our committee specializes in.”
[Featured Image by Evan Vucci/AP Images]