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Jeff Sessions and the Senate Sock Puppet Show

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Watching Attorney General Jeff Sessions confound Senate Democrats during his Intelligence Committee testimony was like watching a puppet show.

Sessions was the hand.

And the Democrats were the socks.

Oh, they flapped their mouths, occasionally twisting their necks, and grimaced before the TV cameras as part of their performance.

But that was about it. It is the way of things in a sock puppet show. The socks are limited. Republicans know what that's like. They've played the sock puppets, too.

But on Tuesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee, it was the Democrats' turn. They didn't like it. But there was little they could do.

Sessions challenged them by refuting unfounded allegations that he may have colluded with the Russians in the 2016 election, invoking his honor and his service and using that Alabama drawl, and after that they couldn't really push back.

"Let me state this clearly, colleagues," said the former Alabama senator. "I have never met with or had any conversation with any Russians or foreign officials concerning any type of interference in any campaign or election in the United States.

"I was your colleague in this body for 20 years," he said. "And the suggestion that I participated in any collusion, that I was aware of any collusion with the Russian government, or hurt this country which I have served with honor for 35 years, or to undermine the integrity of our democratic process, is an appalling and detestable lie."

And Democrats just sat there, turning their sock heads this way and that, moving their mouths, perplexed.

They tried pushing him on what the president told him about firing former FBI Director James Comey. Trump had publicly stated that he had wanted Comey fired for his handling of the investigation into Russian collusion.

Comey had testified to the fact he told the president three times that he was not a target of the investigation, but Comey wouldn't go public with the information. And Trump sacked him.

But Sessions declined to answer particulars, preferring to reserve the president's right to perhaps later claim executive privilege.

Such confidentiality was respected by Democrats when they had the White House.

So Democrats sputtered on, some accusing Sessions of "obstruction" and "stonewalling," though many of them are lawyers. As such, they knew there were no sharp teeth in their arguments. Then again, sock puppets have no teeth.

Democratic U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich and Kamala Harris, along with independent Angus King and the theatrically-disgusted Ron Wyden tried repeatedly to have Sessions break that confidence. He refused.

At least Harris, a former prosecutor and potentially a Democratic candidate for president in 2020, had the smarts and the style to smirk a bit. She understands how this works.

Unfortunately, a few journalists apparently do not, and while scanning a few of their tweets, I could feel the absolute rage emanating from their sockless thumbs on Twitter.

Executive privilege isn't absolute. And it is historically a point of contention between the legislative and executive branch. But it's been that way almost since the beginning of the republic.

Washington Democrats weren't all that upset a few years ago, when one of their own, Attorney General Eric Holder, and others from the Obama White House didn't want to say much about their failed and tragic Mexican gunrunning operation in the Fast and Furious scandal.

And there was a loud silence about Republican allegations that the White House used the Internal Revenue Service to target and intimidate grassroots conservative groups before the 2012 elections.

The interesting thing that probably won't make headlines was this: The Senate committee is investigating alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, but few, if any, questions about this were asked by Democrats.

For months and months, and 24/7 on breathless cable news networks, all we heard and read were allegations -- without evidence -- that Trump colluded with the Russians.

It helped derail his legislative agenda. And it provided cover for Hillary Clinton's pathetic campaign. But now the Russian thing doesn't seem to excite Democrats anymore.

They've moved away from collusion with Russians to process, and have pushed the obstruction of justice angle.

But what happened to the Russians and those damning emails hacked out of the Democratic National Committee -- the emails that demonstrated collusion between Democrats and Beltway journalism -- that so embarrassed Hillary Clinton?

That's what Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton wanted to know.

"Did Donald Trump or any of his associates in the campaign collude with Russia in hacking those emails and releasing them to the public?" Cotton asked. "That's where we started six months ago, and we have now heard six of the eight Democrats on this committee, and to my knowledge I don't think a single one of them asked that question.

"They've gone down lots of other rabbit trails, but not that question," Cotton said.

Cotton did ask Sessions about his favorite spy fiction, John le Carre or Jason Bourne movies, and that got a laugh.

"It's just like 'Through the Looking-Glass,'" Sessions said.

No, actually, it's more like a puppet show.

And in Washington, every few years depending on who's in and who's out, the socks change hands.

This piece has been edited. 

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