This is the best the Speaker of the House can do when he’s asked about the president trying to publicly humiliate the head of the Justice Department into quitting, surely a first in American history? As a matter of pure strategy, you’d like to believe this guy can think two moves ahead: By signaling to Trump that he’d have cover from the House leadership to fire Sessions due to his dissatisfaction with the Russia probe, he risks convincing Trump that the House GOP will also back him up if he fires Mueller. (In fact, the question posed to Ryan in the clip below mentioned Mueller too.) If Trump fires Mueller, the heat on him and the GOP over Russiagate will go from desert temperatures to thermonuclear, with Ryan and his caucus under intense pressure from Democrats and the media to impeach Trump for instigating a constitutional crisis.
The smartest play for Ryan now would be to say what he needs to say to back Trump off. Yeah, fine, it’s the president’s prerogative to fire who he wants, but Sessions obviously made the right decision in recusing himself and it’s disgraceful for the president to be undermining him publicly day after day — especially after Trump himself made clear earlier this year that he didn’t want Hillary Clinton prosecuted, one of his supposed grievances against Sessions. Instead we get this from Ryan. Pitiful.
Here’s where things stand in presidential leadership at the moment:
I asked two ppl close to Trump why he is tormenting Sessions instead of firing him. The answer from both, paraphrased: Because he can.
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) July 25, 2017
That’s been Trump’s M.O. for years, apparently:
“I worked with him for 16 years. I never saw him fire anybody. The issue about firing people only came when he went on the TV program [‘The Apprentice’],” said Louise Sunshine, a longtime executive in Trump’s real estate company. “He would make it extremely clear you had made him angry, and you would go on his list. He would have a long memory and make your life miserable.”
This is the same guy who told the Boy Scouts yesterday that it’d be nice if we had a little more loyalty nowadays. Remember, Sessions was Trump’s most stalwart ally in Congress during the campaign, the one and only U.S. senator to endorse him, and at a critical moment when Ted Cruz was trying to gain traction. This is how Trump has rewarded him. He might as well post a flashing neon sign on the front door of the White House: “DO NOT WORK FOR ME. YOUR LOYALTY WILL NOT BE REPAID.”
Even dumber, Trump is doing tremendous political damage to himself by handling Sessions this way. Some of his nationalist fans have taken to grumbling about the shabby treatment reserved for Sessions, one of the precious few nationalist Republicans in Congress amid a crowd of moderates and conservatives. Sessions is also well-liked by his former Republican colleagues in the Senate. It defies belief that Trump would alienate them by deliberately embarrassing him on a day when the Senate is voting on health care and the House is voting on that controversial Russia sanctions bill. If you were a House Republican on the fence about whether to trust the president on Russia, how would you feel knowing that he’s ready to fire his handpicked AG for not protecting him more aggressively on the Russia probe?
“I don’t understand it. There’s no more honorable person I’ve ever met in my life than Jeff Sessions,” said Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., a close friend of Sessions and his wife. “The only person who is more upset with Trump about this than me, is my wife.”…
Senators made it clear the attack on one of their own stands to color Trump’s relationship with Senate Republicans, said Inhofe, a senator since 1994.
“I’m 100 percent for the president, but I really have a hard time with this,” he said.
So now Senate Republicans are alienated, with Lindsey Graham and Richard Shelby both expressing solidarity with Sessions on Twitter today. How about Trump’s cabinet?
“If he can get treated that way, what about the rest of us?” one of the President’s Cabinet secretaries asked me with both shock and anger in his voice. I am told reports about Rex Tillerson (not who I talked to) are legitimate. He is quite perturbed with the President’s treatment of his Attorney General and is ready to quit. Secretary Mattis (also not who I talked to) is also bothered by it. They and other Cabinet members are already frustrated by the slow pace of appointments for their staffs, the vetoes over qualified people for not being sufficiently pro-Trump, and the Senate confirmation pace.
In fact, the Cabinet secretary I talked to raised the issue of the White House staff vetoes over loyalty, blasting the White House staff for blocking qualified people of like mind because they were not pro-Trump and now the President is ready to fire the most loyal of all the Cabinet members. “It’s more of a clusterf**k than you even know,” the Cabinet secretary tells me about dealing with the White House on policy. It is not just Tillerson ready to bail.
Sessions’s allies feel exactly the way you’d expect them to feel. Lord only knows what morale must be like inside the Justice Department right now. Handling Sessions this way, ritually embarrassing him day after day instead of either leaving him alone or ripping the band-aid off by firing him — which Trump has reportedly discussed doing — is the biggest own-goal of Trump’s presidency to date, with the possible exception of firing Comey.
A lingering question: Why now? Sessions recused himself from Russiagate four and a half months ago but it’s only within the past week that Trump’s taken to criticizing him publicly. What’s going on behind the scenes to have caused Mt. Trump’s eruption? “One adviser said Trump would see firing Sessions as a way to have more control over special counsel Bob Mueller, who he has decided he cannot fire — at least for now,” claims Politico. I think that’s probably it. Trump may have been spooked last week by the news that Mueller’s starting to sift through financial transactions; in particular, hearing that Mueller might be able to access his tax returns reportedly greatly alarmed him. He’s been told by enough people, though, that firing the special counsel would cross a red line that he’s been forced to vent his rage elsewhere. Result: Beating the hell out of Sessions.
Another lingering question: Why hasn’t Sessions quit yet? The president’s new comms chief told a national radio audience this morning that Trump doesn’t want Sessions around anymore, yet he trudges on. Maybe it’s a matter of principle (“if you want me out, be a man and fire him”) or maybe Sessions is simply loath to give up a position for which he traded a safe Senate seat so soon. I wonder, though, if he’s hanging around to spite Trump by denying him the opportunity to recess-appoint a crony as AG next month when the Senate’s not in session. Trump could make that happen by firing Sessions, of course, but if he’s reluctant to do that then Sessions could block him from making a recess appointment by refusing to resign until the Senate is back in September. Stay tuned.
Asked about Sessions, Paul Ryan says it's up to Trump to make personnel decisions pic.twitter.com/dFCrdHUeni
— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) July 25, 2017