Jeff Sessions used political funds for RNC convention expenses

ABC News reports: While at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in August, then-U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions — who was confirmed as Attorney General in early February — used political funds from his reelection account to pay for campaign expenses at the RNC, where he met with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, ABC News confirmed Thursday. [Continue reading…]

Richard W Painter, chief White House ethics lawyer from 2005 to 2007, writes: The Cold War may be over, but Russia in the past few years has once again sought to destabilize the democratic process not only in the United States, but also in much of Europe. Russian support for Communist parties is gone, but Russian support for far right and nationalist movements globally is on the rise, as is Russian spying.

President Trump has already fired his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, for misleading Vice President Pence about his conversations with the Russians. Misleading the United States Senate in testimony under oath is at least as serious. We do not yet know all the facts, but we know enough to see that Attorney General Sessions has to go as well. [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: Jeff Sessions was the first senator to endorse Trump at a time when few Republican lawmakers supported the candidate. His early and fierce loyalty — and his ability to translate Trump’s nationalist instincts into policy — helped him forge a bond with the president, and he now enjoys access whenever he wants it, a privilege that few get, an official said.

Two of Sessions’s former Senate advisers — Stephen Miller and Rick Dearborn — hold key White House roles, and one official said Sessions still talks to them regularly. The attorney general also is friendly with Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist and a powerful player in the administration who promoted Sessions for years on the Breitbart website. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: [Sergey I. Kislyak] was appointed ambassador to Washington in 2008.

“He is a brilliant, highly professional diplomat — affable, pleasant, unbelievably good at arms control and Russian-American relations for decades,” said Sergei A. Karaganov, a periodic Kremlin adviser on foreign policy.

Some Russian foreign policy experts compared him to Anatoly F. Dobrynin, the Soviet ambassador to Washington from 1962 to 1986 and a political player in both capitals. Until recently, at least, Mr. Kislyak played a more discreet, quiet role in Washington and was even less visible in Moscow.

“I would describe him as Russia’s top authority on the United States,” said Vladimir Frolov, a foreign policy analyst.

The questions about contacts between Mr. Trump’s circle and Russian officials have revealed what both sides presumably knew, that American intelligence agencies closely track Mr. Kislyak’s movements and tap his phone calls. Russian officials on Thursday expressed anger that their ambassador’s actions were being questioned and that some news reports suggested he might be an intelligence operative.

Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, delivered an extended diatribe during her weekly briefing against what she called the low professional standards of the American news media.

“I will reveal a military secret to you: Diplomats work, and their work consists of carrying out contacts in the country where they are present,” she said. “This is on record everywhere. If they do not carry out these contacts, do not participate in negotiations, then they are not diplomats.”

Until Vladimir V. Putin returned to the Russian presidency in 2012 and tensions between Washington and Moscow rose again, Mr. Kislyak was a popular host, especially for weekend events at the estate at Pioneer Point in Maryland, which the Obama administration ordered closed last December over the hacking allegations. He invited the Americans who negotiated the New Start nuclear arms treaty and their families to a party at the estate. Russian security guards took the children of his guests tubing on the ambassador’s boat.

During the treaty negotiations, Mr. McFaul remembered, Mr. Kislyak frequently telephoned the secretary of defense or others involved, thwarting the American desire to limit his channels of communication. “He was actively pushing to try to find fissures and disagreements among us,” Mr. McFaul said.

“He is very smart, very experienced, always well prepared,” said R. Nicholas Burns, a former under secretary of state who negotiated three Iran sanctions resolutions at the United Nations with Mr. Kislyak. “But he could be cynical, obstreperous and inflexible, and had a Soviet mentality. He was very aggressive toward the United States.” [Continue reading…]

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