Whatever. He could fire both of them tomorrow and the most you’ll get from Republicans in Congress is the usual murmuring about being “troubled” and “concerned.” The fact that, of the four who spoke to CNN, only Susan Collins was willing to go on record tells you everything you need to know about the intensity of Republican concern. Even Collins might have chosen anonymity had she not already burned her bridges to the White House by opposing the BCRA and clean repeal, leaving her with nothing to lose.
Consider how prosaic this criticism is in the context of not wanting to be quoted by name on it. All they’re saying is that the DOJ should be independent of political pressure and the president shouldn’t fire a prosecutor who’s investigating him and his associates for possible wrongdoing. That’s Civics 101. And yet.
“The attorney general is America’s top law enforcement official,” one GOP senator said. “It’s unclear if he understands that, and that’s pretty disturbing.”…
“One gets the impression that the President doesn’t understand or he willfully disregards the fact that the attorney general and law enforcement in general — they are not his personal lawyers to defend and protect him,” one GOP senator told CNN. “He has (his) own personal lawyers, and of course, the White House has the White House counsel’s office.”…
“This one seemed to go a little further,” the senator said. “Any thought of firing the special counsel is chilling. It’s chilling. That’s all you can say.”
Collins called the prospect of Trump firing Mueller “catastrophic” while Marco Rubio, ever cautious, told a group of other reporters that it would be a “mistake.” Is it true that Trump thinks the DOJ is his own personal law office, duty bound to defend him first and foremost? Well … probably, yeah, but as I said this morning in another post, I don’t think you necessarily have to interpret his anger at Sessions that way. If Sessions had reason to believe he’d need to recuse himself from a major investigation soon after being appointed AG, it’s fair for Trump to grumble that that should have been disclosed to him before the appointment was made. The president was put in a position where he had incomplete information when filling a key cabinet role.
The wrinkle, of course, is that the “major investigation” in this case involves Trump’s own associates, which makes his grievance with Sessions feel less theoretical and more personal. He wanted a loyalist in charge of Russiagate and somehow, thanks to Sessions, he ended up with Rod Rosenstein and a probe that’s now almost completely out of his control. Although, as Ann Coulter(!) aptly says, Mueller’s entry into this saga is his own damned fault:
Who's going to tell Trump? It wasn't Sessions' recusal that led to Special Counsel; It was Trump's own boasting to Lester Holt 2 mos later.
— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) July 20, 2017
Correct. Once Trump canned Comey and went on TV to babble to Holt that his decision was due in part to how Comey had handled the Russiagate investigation, Rosenstein felt he had no choice but to put Mueller on the case. The DOJ would have looked like a laughingstock if the president was allowed to disrupt a probe into his own campaign personnel’s possible collusion with Russia by drop-kicking the FBI director out the door.
Meanwhile, at the DOJ, morale is predictably in the toilet:
“I would say the mood is one of sober resignation,” a current Justice Department attorney who has served over the past two decades told BuzzFeed News in a written message. “I’m not hearing anyone complain about the criticism of Sessions himself (who commands little respect), but Trump’s attitude that the AG, and by extension the Department as a whole, exists solely to defend him is deeply concerning. The same goes for his inexplicable chumminess with Putin.”…
“You have a president who is criticizing an attorney general who he picked for essentially following the rules of legal ethics,” the former DOJ attorney said, referring to Trump’s criticism of Sessions for recusing from the Russia probe. “And that invites the kind of question that, ‘When I, a career prosecutor, has to follow the rules of ethics, what does that mean for me?’”
I wonder if it’s occurred to Trump that one reason Sessions may have been eager to recuse himself is because he saw Russiagate trouble on the horizon and didn’t want to be in the thick of it. Imagine if he’d declined to recuse in March and then Trump had dropped the hammer on Comey in May. What does Sessions do? If he appoints a special counsel, Trump would have gone ballistic, possibly firing him too and plunging the administration into an even bigger crisis than the Comey firing. If he doesn’t appoint a special counsel, he’d be pilloried as a political hack who acquiesced in Trump’s attempt to derail the Russiagate investigation instead of standing up for the FBI and the DOJ’s independence. It was no-win. Standing aside and letting Rosenstein, who had no relationship with Trump, make the call on the special counsel might have been Sessions’s least disruptive move.
I have no thoughtful exit question, so instead let me offer you this bit via Twitter from the same NYT interview in which Trump went off on Sessions. Here’s Trump talking about the G20 dinner where he eventually ended up chatting with Putin:
So, I was seated next to the wife of Prime Minister Abe [Shinzo Abe of Japan], who I think is a terrific guy, and she’s a terrific woman, but doesn’t speak English.
HABERMAN: Like, nothing, right? Like zero?
TRUMP: Like, not “hello.”
Errrrr, actually, she does speak English. Was Mrs. Abe feigning a language barrier at dinner to avoid conversation with the president? If so, why? He had a Japanese interpreter right there with him.