By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Bloomington

1. From Russia, with love and unified talking points

The Kremlin/Trump campaign story is just one of the strangest political stories in modern times. Now Attorney General Jeff Sessions joins former national security adviser Michael Flynn as a high ranking White House appointee compromised by revelation of talks with influential Russians. Sessions testified at his confirmation hearing that he "didn’t have communications with the Russians” while acting as one of President Trump’s top surrogates and closest advisers during the 2016 presidential race. Once his meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak came to light at the same time Russian hackers were probing state election systems in Arizona and Illinois last September, Sessions explained, “I never met with any Russian officials to discuss the issues of the campaign.” The problem with that is the Sessions was inextricably part of the Trump campaign.

So President Trump’s top guy at DOJ has recused himself from presiding over, potentially, the most explosive investigation since Iran/Contra, and perhaps Watergate. Then we find out First Son-in-Law Jared Kushner and Flynn, along with Trump campaign officials Carter Page and J.D. Gordon also met with the Ruskies. President Trump calls the whole thing a “total witch hunt,” and so does Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov who said this morning, “All this looks very much like a witch hunt.” So the Trump Administration, the Kremlin and the Russian Foreign Ministry all seem to be operating off the same talking points. That’s damn curious.

2. The hacking of Gov. Pence

We remembered that strange email last summer from Gov. Mike Pence, saying he and his wife had been kidnapped in the Philippines. Now the IndyStar reports that Pence was using his AOL account to conduct state business, including some communications involving Homeland Security. Vice President Pence said in a statement, “Similar to previous governors, during his time as governor of Indiana, Mike Pence maintained a state email account and a personal email account. As governor, Mr. Pence fully complied with Indiana law regarding email use and retention. Government emails involving his state and personal accounts are being archived by the state consistent with Indiana law, and are being managed according to Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act.”

The vice president is correct. News that he had an AOL account is not new information to this writer. And, yes, other governors have had personal accounts.

3. Trump and Sen. Young on ‘winning’ wars

President Trump spoke on the USS Gerald R. Ford about his $54 billion military buildup plan, saying at one point, “Win. Win! We’re going to start winning again.” That sounds like a ramp up to war. And while Vietnam and the 2003 Iraq war were geopolitical disasters, the U.S. did win the liberation of Kuwait in 1991. And ISIS is on its heels.

Speaking of war, U.S. Sen. Todd Young introduced legislation (S.J.RES. 31) this morning that would authorize the use of military force against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). “I believe it is long past time for Congress to consider and pass an authorization for use of military force against ISIS and send a clear message to our troops in harm’s way that we support them and have their backs.”  

4. The Obamacare replace hunt

Speaking of “witch hunts,” U.S. Sen. Rand Paul went searching for the House Republican Obamacare repeal/replace plan, which is mostly under wraps. He tweeted on Thursday, “What is the House leadership trying to hide? My guess is, they are trying to hide their ‘Obamacare Lite’ approach.” And then this, “This is unacceptable. This is the biggest issue before Congress and the American people right now.” And, this! “I am heading to the secure location where they are keeping the House Obamacare bill. I will demand a copy for the American people.”  Finally, “.@randpaul wasn't allowed to see the House GOP's Obamacare bill. Brought his own copy machine, just in case.” And he did bring his own copy machine. Mysterious legislation. Secured locations. Capitol Hill intrigue. Love it.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi joined in, tweeting a photo of beagles, saying, “ReleaseTheHounds. Where’s the bill?”

5. PASTAriffic bummer

We were saddened to learn that PASTAriffic in Kokomo was ravaged by fire with an estimated $1.25 million damage. This lovely Italian restaurant hosted the Republican U.S. Senate debate in January 2016, and has been the scene of a number of Howard County Reagan dinners. The food is always fantastic. We hope that Cynthia Yazdani and her team rebuild. She told the Kokomo Tribune, “We can rebuild. From the ashes we’ll raise PASTAriffic again.” To that we say, “Andate ragazza!”

Have a great weekend, folks. Thanks for reading The Atomic.