What conflict of interest?

By March 3, 2017US Politics

The astounding thing about Jeff Sessions being Trump’s Attorney General is that over 30 years ago he was prevented from being a judge of the Federal District Court because of charges of racism. In the hearings in March, 1986, he made a number of damaging admissions. The first of these was that he had stated about a white civil rights lawyer that he had “heard him referred to as a disgrace to his race”, but a month later he denied that he had made any acknowledgement of this “in any form”. Again in March, he conceded that he had called the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the National Council of Churches and the American Civil Liberties Union as communist-inspired and un-American. However, a month later he said “These organisations are essential organisations in a pluralistic society. I welcome their role. They are quintessentially American organisations. They are not un-American organisations”. Sessions tried to explain the reasons for his changed answers by saying that he had been surprised in the hearings in March. Despite this, Sessions was voted down in 1986, only the second time in half a century that this had happened.

Flash forward 31 years and Sessions is at it again. When asked at his confirmation hearing, by Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, “Have you been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election, either before or after election day?” To this, Sessions replied “No”. It now turns out that Sessions met with the Russian Ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, in his Senate office on September 8th during the presidential campaign and at a right wing Heritage Foundation event in July during the Republican National Convention. Sessions maintains that, despite meeting Kislyak during the campaign, they did not discuss the campaign. This beggars belief.

Needless to say, various members of the Democratic Party have asked Sessions to step down from the Attorney General’s position. He is also receiving pressure from Republicans in Congress.

Sessions has now decided to recuse* himself from investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election after the revelations that he had meetings with Kislyak. The surprising thing was that he recused himself only after meetings with senior Justice Department officials. Presumably, they had to explain to him in great detail what ‘conflict of interest’ means, as he was seemingly unaware of the concept. Of course, Trump has called this, in his usual illiterate style “a total witch hunt” and urged Sessions not to recuse himself. Of course Trump wants Sessions involved in the investigation, so he can keep tabs on what is being uncovered. As they say, forewarned is forearmed.

The thing that is most disturbing about this saga, is that Sessions if not committing perjury, at least misled the Senate at his confirmation hearing and that he had to be convinced that he should recuse himself, when to anybody but a politician, it is patently obvious that there is a conflict of interest. That is one of the main features of modern politics that needs fixing, the demise of the concept of conflict of interest and the lack of much integrity in dealing with it. Almost all politicians have their snouts in the trough and will try like hell to keep them there. Of course the mastodon in the room is the assorted conflicts of interest that Trump has. There is no doubt that if you asked Trump about these, he would spout some drivel about ‘fake news’, but you would know deep down that he would only have the vaguest idea what you were talking about. Trump was elected largely because of disenchantment with ‘politics as usual’, but he is ‘politics as usual’, just much worse. That is a sad indictment of American politics.

*Recuse: excuse oneself from a case because of a potential conflict of interest or lack of impartiality








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