Sure sounds like the AG is prepared to call Trump’s bluff. If the president wants someone else in charge of the Justice Department, he’ll have to handle this … “Apprentice”-style.
In the two-plus years since Trump announced his candidacy, no one has challenged him for primacy among his own populist-nationalist base. Sessions appears to be ready. With whom will grassroots righties side?
“Sessions is totally pissed off about it,” said a Sessions ally familiar with his thinking. “It’s beyond insane. It’s cruel and it’s insane and it’s stupid.”…
“He’s not going anywhere,” said another Sessions ally. “He is not going to resign. What he is accomplishing is way too important to the country.”
Rather than quit, Sessions insiders predict that the Attorney General call Trump’s bluff. And unlike other members of Trump’s cabinet, he has political wiggle room to do so. Trump’s base of support – immigration restrictionists, rank and file law enforcement officials, and states’ rights conservatives – were Sessions’ fans before they flocked to the president. They may very well scoff at the idea that the administration would be better off without its AG. Sessions also enjoys continued support in the Senate, where he served for a decade. On Tuesday morning, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) pushed back on Trump’s attacks and called the president’s encouragement that Sessions prosecute Hillary Clinton over her email use, “highly inappropriate.”
Reuters’s sources are saying the same thing, claiming that Sessions “has been deeply offended by the public berating from his boss, but his resolve to stay is strong.” Sessions has nothing to lose by ignoring Trump: He has no Senate seat to go back to and publicly sympathy for him is building as the president knifes him in the back again and again. He’s also had support from big-name Republican prosecutors like Rudy Giuliani and Trey Gowdy on his original decision to recuse himself. (Anthony Scaramucci thought it was a swell idea at the time too.) Trump may be willing to accept an either/or outcome here in which Sessions quits or un-recuses himself from the Russia probe and tries to rein in Mueller. But Sessions would lose the respect of the legal community if he did that and might face resignations from underlings at the DOJ who’d resent seeing the AG reverse himself on an ethical matter under political pressure from the White House. If Sessions won’t resign and won’t un-recuse, then the choice for Trump is stark. Fire him or back down?
#BREAKING Decision 'soon' on fate of US attorney general Sessions: White House
— AFP news agency (@AFP) July 25, 2017
“Aides say the quickest way to get Trump to do something is to tell him he can’t, or argue that it’s contrary to tradition,” wrote Axios yesterday in regards to Trump’s pardon power, but that logic applies here too. The more the people around him tell him that he can’t fire Sessions, the more inclined he may be to do it — especially if he begins to see this as a test of wills between him and the AG, with Trump terrified of “looking weak” by relenting. Even so, all of the political risk belongs to Trump. There are rumblings today from usually friendly outlets and commentators that he’s gone too far in demagoging Sessions publicly. Breitbart has a piece up noting that Sessions is only following Trump’s lead in declining to prosecute Clinton. Victor Davis Hanson is encouraging Trump to lay off, as is Mark Levin. Tucker Carlson devoted an entire segment a few nights ago to trying to back Trump off of Sessions. And border hawk Mickey Kaus wonders why Trump would be eager to replace an AG who’s stalwart on enforcement with a squish like Giuliani.
If Trump pulls the trigger on Sessions, he may turn around to find himself, for once, with virtually no allies. The media and Democrats will be all over him; the Senate GOP will be angry at seeing a former colleague treated so shabbily; and Trump’s own nationalist base may erupt in frustration that he’s purged the best ally they had at the top of the federal government. Trump would be gambling that populist media, despite its Sessions sympathies, would bite its tongue and defend him out of pure wagon-circling reflex. Sessions is gambling that they wouldn’t, that the underlying policy concerns of nationalism (starting with immigration) coupled with Trump’s tacky vindictiveness in making a spectacle of his unhappiness with Sessions would convince populists to side with him instead. There’s a lot riding on that bet for Trump. If he’s wrong, his already meager job approval will sink even further as part of his base turns on him. That may be the end in terms of congressional Republicans ever feeling pressure to do what he wants again.