|Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump
In an administration that has been filled with job-dropping moments, this one might have moved to the top of the list. From a CNN report, based on a Trump interview with The New York Times:
President Donald Trump said in an interview published Wednesday that he would not have chosen Jeff Sessions to be his attorney general had he known Sessions would recuse himself over matters related to the 2016 presidential campaign.
Trump's remarks, in a 50-minute interview with The New York Times, represent an extraordinary rebuke from the President toward the nation's top law enforcement official who happens to be one of his earliest political allies.
"Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself, which frankly I think is very unfair to the President," Trump said, referring to himself. "How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, 'Thanks, Jeff, but I'm not going to take you.' It's extremely unfair -- and that's a mild word -- to the President."
We know Sessions has no problem taking corrupt actions. As U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, he made it a practice to prosecute political opponents. As Alabama attorney general, Sessions hired the nephew of a black federal judge to force the judge's recusal in a case where the AG's office was accused of gross prosecutorial misconduct. That move adds to Sessions' already dubious record on matters of race, and a federal court has described the hiring of an attorney simply to force a judge's recusal as a "breach of ethics."
Trump now is having "buyer's remorse" about Sessions. It seems Trump didn't want an attorney general who merely was corrupt -- he wanted one who was really corrupt, one who would take unlawful steps to protect a crime-infested administration.
Has Trump forgotten that Sessions got caught lying in his confirmation hearings about meetings with Russian officials? Has Trump forgotten that Sessions' false answer to a question from U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) pretty much forced the AG to recuse himself from all matters connected to various investigations of Trump's ties to Russia? No, Trump has not forgotten; but he views the Sessions quagmire in his usual twisted, self-interested way. From CNN:
Before Trump had a lock on the Republican nomination last year, Sessions became the first sitting senator to back the real estate mogul's presidential bid.
But several months into the job, Trump's warm feelings for Sessions have clearly cooled. In the interview, Trump scolded Sessions for telling the Senate judiciary committee that he had not met with any Russians during the campaign. It was later revealed he had met with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the US, at least two times.
Sessions later amended his testimony.
"Jeff Sessions gave some bad answers," the President said. "He gave some answers that were simple questions and should have been simple answers, but they weren't."
To have Donald Trump scold you for telling lies? That makes the mind swirl.
Trump's statements reveal a level of narcissism and dishonesty that is almost painful to contemplate. What do his statements suggest?
(1) That Trump knew an investigation was coming of his campaign's interactions with Russian interests;
(2) That Trump knew such an investigation could spell big trouble, so he needed someone to protect him and his inner circle;
(3) That Trump expected the AG to serve as his protector, not as "the people's lawyer."
(4) That Trump has no clue about the independence of the Department of Justice, that the DOJ is not supposed to take instructions from the White House on the handling of investigations or prosecutions.
Item No. 4 is particularly profound. In November 2016, the United States "elected" a man of commerce to be president, supposedly to "run the country like a business." We now are learning that such an outcome presents significant danger, especially when the businessman has no idea how government is supposed to work. From a February 2017 article on the subject at lawfareblog.com:
After Watergate, Jimmy Carter campaigned on the promise to establish "as far as constitutionally possible, an independent Department of Justice,” and in 1978 his attorney general, Griffin Bell, sought to make good on that pledge by instituting procedures to insulate the Justice Department from political pressures. But what became the customary rules governing interaction between the White House and Justice were relaxed most recently under the George W. Bush administration, in a set of episodes the administration came to regret. As recounted by Politico in January, Bush's first attorney general, John Ashcroft, expanded the number of White House officials permitted to contact the Justice Department on non-national security members from four to 417; his second attorney general, Alberto Gonzalez, further increased the number to 895 (according to findings by Senate Judiciary Committee member Sheldon Whitehouse, a former U.S. attorney). These changes ended in scandal: among other things, under Gonzalez, seven U.S. attorney generals were abruptly fired in 2006 for political reasons that, according to a subsequent report by the Justice Department Inspector General, "raised doubts about the integrity of Department prosecution decisions." Michael Mukasey reinstituted more traditional guidelines in 2007, and Eric Holder replaced them with his own substantively similar variant in 2009.
The heart of the [Holder] memo is a set of prescriptions limiting the Justice Department’s communications with the White House and Congress regarding pending or potential criminal or civil investigations or cases. The Department will advise the President on such investigations or cases “when—but only when—it is important for the performance of the President's duties and appropriate from a law enforcement perspective.”
The lawfareblog.com author apparently could see that Trump's AG had a tough future ahead of him:
All of this suggests it may not be not enough for Attorney General Sessions to keep the 2009 policy guidance in place, or to issue his own—just as it wasn’t enough for him to assert at his confirmation hearings, as any Justice Department nominee must, that he intends to head an independent department capable of standing up to the President. If the White House persists in interfering with Justice Department strategy in general or investigations in particular, to maintain outside confidence in the Justice Department’s impartiality, it may be on Sessions to publicly—and as needed, repeatedly—reaffirm his Department’s continuing commitment to remaining “impartial and insulated from political influence.”
Jeff Sessions had every reason to know Trump is a blowhard -- and every reason to suspect Trump is a crook, especially when it comes to Russia. There was ample evidence of both, before and during the 2016 campaign. Since his lies to Congress were unveiled, Sessions probably has gone into "Dear God, please keep me out of prison" mode. In the meantime, Sessions is left to deal with a president who appears to be both ignorant and emotionally unhinged.
In short, Jeff Sessions is in a mess. But it's largely a mess of his own making.