When President Donald Trump fired now-former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn last month for meeting with the Russian ambassador during the transition period, the Democrats clearly smelled blood in the water. Now their feeding frenzy is fixed on Attorney General Jeff Sessions for meetings he had during the election period with the very same Russian ambassador that he failed to disclose. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer has even just joined a chorus from his party calling on Sessions to resign.
This is a scandal! A Conspiracy! The end of the Republic!
Not so much.
In fact, while it was bad enough to lose Flynn, if Sessions is forced to step down it will be worse news for the White House, America, and even the anti-Trump Democrats who can't let go of their still unproven Russian conspiracy theories.
There are two big reasons why.
First, there is simply no evidence of any wrongdoing and even the "appearance of impropriety" argument here is more than a normal stretch. Second, this particular Russian conspiracy nonsense is doing serious damage to the entire country politically and culturally. And the people promoting this theory are actually suffering the most damage themselves.
Let's start with the "evidence" in this case. It turns out one of the "meetings" was an informal encounter on the sidelines of the GOP convention in July. The second appears to have been a routine visit by Ambassador Sergey Kislyak to Sessions' office in September when Sessions was a member of the Senate Armed Services committee.
As for allegations that Sessions lied under oath by not disclosing these meetings during his confirmation hearings, Sessions spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said there was nothing "misleading about his answer" to Congress because he was asked during the hearings about "communications between Russia and the Trump campaign, not about meetings he took as a senator and a member of the Armed Services Committee." And Flores later noted that in 2016, Sessions had over 25 conversations and meetings with foreign ambassadors.
A closer look at the actual questions and their context in the hearings sure seems to prove Flores right. Senator Al Franken asked Sessions a question about campaign dealings and here's how that exchange went:
Franken: If there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign what will you do?
Sessions: Senator Franken, I'm not aware of … uh … any of those activities. I had been called a surrogate a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communication with the Russians and I'm unable to comment.
Other than Sessions not adding the phrase "about the campaign," after saying "I did not have communication with the Russians," there's no "there" there. Watch the video for yourself of the exchange and decide if you see anything resembling a big lie or scandal at all.
In America, we don't indict senators on committees that deal with foreign relations for having meetings with the officially recognized ambassadors of major powers. The encounter at the Republican Convention also appears to have occurred in a group setting and can hardly be called a "meeting." And the question he was asked during his confirmation hearing was clearly about formal and/or nefarious Russian involvement in the Trump campaign and not connected to his routine meetings a member of the Senate. Sessions was never even working directly with the Trump campaign anyway, he was simply an early supporter of the candidate. All of that distinguishes Sessions greatly from Flynn, who allegedly discussed U.S.-led sanctions against Russia late last year.
But we have a bigger problem than just the fact that so many people are jumping to wild conclusions about Sessions with no evidence. The more dire issue is that we have two sources for this Russian hysteria who don't seem to care how much damage they're causing along the way. The first source is the Democratic Party, which has become obsessed with creating a retroactive election scandal and a scapegoat for its stunning loss in that election. That's a big problem for everyone because it keeps the Democrats from coming to grips with the true reason for their loss and reconnecting with the voters who rejected them in November. And for non-Democrats, this is bad news because whipping up anger and fear over supposed foreign tampering in our election sets an unnecessarily nasty tone to our already broken political dialogue.
But don't just blame the Democrats for this obsession. Because the second source of the Russian scandal hysteria is the political class that includes lots of elected Republicans and a boatload of federal bureaucrats and their allies in the news media. Right on cue, we started hearing from them last night when Republican Senator Lindsey Graham basically called for a special prosecutor to look into allegations of Russian connections to the Trump campaign. Graham's statement was the anchor for the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza's analysis this morning saying that it will be "suicide" for the GOP if they don't appoint a special prosecutor.
Cillizza has that half right. If the GOP appoints a special prosecutor and shines an indefinitely long-lasting light on this alleged scandal, it will be suicide alright, but suicide for the Democrats who will be all that much more distracted by a story that will keep them from fixing all the problems that lost them the White House in 2016 and the Congress in 2014. The only question is whether the Republican Congressional leadership will be Machiavellian enough to realize this and feed this one-sided destructive frenzy. You can already hear the 2018 GOP midterm congressional candidates shouting at every campaign rally something to the tune of: "While the Democrats were focused on a baseless Russian conspiracy theory, we were bringing jobs back to America!" In other words, the Democrats better be careful what they wish for on this one.
And let's be honest about why Sessions is being targeted, because there are probably other members of the White House team that have had innocuous and routine meetings with Russian officials over the last 12 months. Sessions is the point man on policies the Democrats and the political class abhor, especially the promised crackdown on illegal immigration and increased voter ID laws. These are issues the left is understandably worried about as they believe they will affect their election chances for decades to come. Like Flynn, whose unique focus on radical Islam as the only serious cause of global terror put him at odds with the political class during his time in the Obama administration, Sessions has already slayed some sacred cows. In that sense, Sessions is more of a danger to them than President Trump himself.
That said, Sessions should probably recuse himself from any probe into Russia's ties to the Trump campaign. Even some Republicans like Congressman Jason Chaffetz have called for that. Frankly, that would probably be doing Sessions a favor as that will help him focus on his more important goals at the Justice Department. There's nothing for Sessions to gain by even appearing to have any oversight into such an investigation.
But that's as far as Sessions should go. This attempt to undermine the election results by picking off members of the Trump cabinet needs to stop now or it will never stop. President Trump and Flynn seem to have caved under the pressure because of what still looks like harmless disclosure foul ups on Flynn's part. It may have been the most honorable thing to do, but it sent the wrong message of encouragement to overly partisan forces with little or no concern for the collateral damage their vindictive campaign is doing to the republic.
And after Tuesday night's speech by President Trump drew uncharacteristically bi-partisan praise, the anti-Trump forces seem to be getting more desperate and dangerous than ever. Yes, the timing of this Sessions news coming right after the successful speech is suspect, too. America seems to have really liked the message and the messenger they heard it from Tuesday night, and not a scandal that still has no real evidence to back it up. It's time for the Democrats to calm down for their own good and the administration to show some backbone for the country.
Commentary by Jake Novak, CNBC.com senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.
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