I thought the only options on the table were Trump firing Sessions or Sessions continuing in the job while silently absorbing sporadic public abuse from his boss.
It didn’t occur to me that there might be a door number three: Sessions defending himself by issuing some cutting public statements of his own.
This is far more mild in tone than Trump’s “disgraceful!” tweet this morning was, but it’s easy to read between the lines. Sessions is telling him here that he refuses to be a crony who considers job one to be protecting the president. Which, let’s face it, is what Trump wants him to be.
“We have initiated the appropriate process that will ensure complaints against this Department will be fully and fairly acted upon if necessary,” Sessions said in a statement that did not mention Trump by name.
“As long as I am the Attorney General, I will continue to discharge my duties with integrity and honor, and this Department will continue to do its work in a fair and impartial manner according to the law and Constitution,” he said.
Translation: “I’m not quitting. If you want a crony as AG, man up and sign the termination letter.” Which reminds me, has Trump’s “badmouth an employee until he resigns in disgust” strategy ever worked? Ever? He tried it to some extent on Comey. He’s tried it on Rod Rosenstein. He and his allies are trying it right now on John Kelly, albeit via leaks to the media about Trump’s annoyance with Kelly rather than disparaging tweets. It never works! None of those people quit. You’re left wondering what Trump thinks he’s accomplishing by badmouthing them publicly. It’s one thing to attack Comey after he’s been axed and is no longer in a position to damage Trump’s interests at the FBI, but Sessions, Rosenstein, and Kelly are all tremendously powerful figures and Trump’s making enemies of all of them *while leaving them in positions of power.* Sessions’s statement today is practically a declaration of independence from the White House. He can have the AG’s loyalty by leaving Sessions in place and praising him or by firing Sessions and bringing in someone who’ll do the president’s bidding. The one way he can’t have the AG’s loyalty is by doing what he’s doing now.
Which is to say, Trump popping off about Sessions can’t possibly be strategic. He’s venting just to vent, no matter how that may imperil him politically.
I don’t understand the strategy either of demanding that DOJ lawyers take over the investigation into FISA abuses from the Inspector General, Michael Horowitz. Because Horowitz is an Obama appointee, Trump’s in something of a no-lose situation with him as lead investigator. If the IG finds no FISA abuse by the FBI, no problem: The White House can call him a Democrat and an Obama hack and howl that his inquiry was biased. (And they will, no doubt.) If the IG *does* find FISA abuse, then Trump’s enemies on the left are boxed in. Here’s one of Barack Obama’s own appointees at Justice confirming Republican suspicions that the surveillance of Carter Page was ill-gotten. It’d be a political blockbuster. If, on the other hand, Trump got his wish and Sessions assigned the FISA abuse probe to regular DOJ prosecutors and then they found no abuse, what would he say then? His AG followed his orders and let the Department investigate — and it was a bust. There’s nowhere to hide politically in that case.
Last year, 47 of the nation’s 73 federal IGs signed an open letter decrying the Obama administration’s stonewalling of their investigations. The White House, they reported, had placed “serious limitations on access to records that have recently impeded the work” of IGs at the Peace Corps, the EPA and the Department of Justice, and jeopardized their “ability to conduct our work thoroughly, independently, and in a timely manner.”…
Earlier this year in congressional testimony, DOJ IG Michael Horowitz exposed the Obama administration’s “continued refusal by the Department to recognize that Section 6(a) of the Inspector General Act authorizes the DOJ OIG to obtain access to all records in the Department’s possession that we need in order to perform our oversight responsibilities” as the office investigates the IRS witch hunts, the Fast and Furious scandal, and systemic public disclosure evasions. The FBI has repeatedly run out the clock to thwart IG document production requests and unilaterally claimed power to pre-screen and limit records disclosures.
There’s every reason to think Horowitz’s forthcoming report on DOJ activities during the 2016 campaign will find fault with some of the Department’s procedures. If that happens, what will Trump’s spin on the IG be? He’s either a political hack who’s in the tank for Justice agencies or he isn’t.
As for Jeff Sessions, whose dream job under a supposedly likeminded nationalist Republican president has turned into a Twilight Zone episode, this will probably be the consensus line on the right before long, assuming it isn’t already:
I couldn’t agree more. @USAGSessions must be part of the Bush/Romney/McCain Republican Establishment. He probably supported @realDonaldTrump early in campaign to hide who he really is. Or he could just be a coward. https://t.co/9D1ppRTSyp
— Jerry Falwell (@JerryFalwellJr) February 28, 2018
Falwell’s been president of Liberty University since 2007 and a trustee of the school since 2000. In that time the school’s commencement speakers have included … Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, and John McCain.