Over the last couple of days, the White House communications team has been remarkably reluctant to endorse Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ standing with the president. Both Sean Spicer and Sarah Huckabee Sanders have ducked questions from reporters about whether Donald Trump still has confidence in his pick to run the Department of Justice after just four months on the job. Normally, this is an easy question to answer, but both demurred, saying that they had not had an opportunity to discuss the matter with Trump directly — which put the media on a Sessions Death Watch of sorts.
Today, Bloomberg got an answer about Sessions’ status with the president. Confidence or not, he’s not going anywhere for now:
President Donald Trump has no intention to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions despite his frustration with Sessions for the handling of the administration’s failed travel ban and for recusing himself from the Russia probe, according to two White House officials.
Trump has been frustrated and angry on a few occasions with Sessions, but not enough to seriously consider replacing him as attorney general, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a personnel matter.
Sessions had suggested in the past several weeks he might resign amid the widening discord, according to another U.S. official. Yet none of Trump’s aides has encouraged him to fire Sessions and instead they have urged the president to keep him on the job, according to one of the officials.
If nothing else, the fallout from firing James Comey should have put up some red flags on any more terminations in the law-enforcement wing of the administration. Firing the Attorney General a month later would have created a whole new set of political problems, and this time perhaps more among Republicans than Democrats. Sessions had been among the most loyal of Trump’s supporters during the campaign and had given up a safe Senate seat to run the Department of Justice. Firing him in a fit of pique would have seriously damaged any good will between the White House and Sessions’ friends in the Senate, and Trump can’t afford to lose any more traction there as it is. Getting a new AG through a Senate confirmation process would require a nominee who was considerably less personally loyal to Trump under those circumstances, and perhaps even that would take months to accomplish.
However, one has to wonder just how seriously Sessions was in trouble at all. Trump may be sore about his recusal on the Russia probe and Rod Rosenstein’s appointment of special counsel to run the case, but that’s a fait accompli. Firing Sessions now would put Rosenstein in charge of the entire DoJ — and firing Rosenstein along with Sessions could touch off an impeachment. There wouldn’t be much point to it, and Trump had to know that. He also should understand that he’s not likely to find anyone more simpatico to his own agenda and to him personally than Sessions. This seems more like a hyperbolic narrative based on a leak or two rather than a real political tug-of-war.
So why didn’t Spicer or Sanders simply put an end to it by issuing an expression of confidence in Sessions? Their answers are likely the literal reason: they had no reason to ask Trump, and so couldn’t speak to his state of mind. The last time a White House surrogate expressed Trump’s confidence in an appointee is when Kellyanne Conway assured reporters that Trump had full confidence in Michael Flynn … the day Flynn got fired. After that, Conway made herself scarce for a while on the airwaves, and that lesson apparently sunk in well enough for Spicer and Sanders to recall it almost four months later.