Yeah, I’m not sure offering his own scalp in a two-for-one deal with Rosenstein’s is going to have the deterrent effect Sessions is hoping for. You can imagine Trump reading this, thinking, “Is that a threat or a promise?”
According to WaPo, it’s neither. Sessions isn’t guaranteeing he’ll quit if Trump fires Rosenstein. He’s just stating the obvious: If Trump tries to short-circuit Russiagate by decapitating the head of the probe and Sessions stands at attention and salutes, he’ll be a laughingstock inside the DOJ and a figure of utter derision for Trump’s critics in the media and beyond. The only dignified move, to the extent that the AG has any dignity left after being public humiliated by his boss for months, would be to quit.
Which is great news for Trump! Except for the small matter of who’s going to replace Sessions.
In the phone call with [White House Don] McGahn, Sessions wanted details of a meeting Trump and Rosenstein held at the White House on April 12, according to a person with knowledge of the call. Sessions expressed relief to learn that their meeting was largely cordial. Sessions said he would have had to consider leaving as the attorney general had Trump ousted Rosenstein, this person said…
A senior administration official said Sessions does not like the way Rosenstein has been treated by the president and had expressed such concerns for months. He has regularly sought guidance from the White House about Rosenstein’s standing with the president and asked about his interactions with Trump, this official said.
But Sessions has had little ability to do anything about it, given his own shaky standing with Trump for recusing himself from the Russia investigation, this official said. Trump has, at times, referred to Sessions as “Mr. Magoo” and Rosenstein as “Mr. Peepers,” a character from a 1950s sitcom, according to people with whom the president has spoken.
Definitely nothing undignified about continuing to work for a guy who openly calls you “Mr. Magoo” in front of aides who then go running to the national media with it. But Sessions and Rosenstein may consider indignity a burden of duty. If either one quits in disgust, there’s every reason to think Trump would try to fill the vacancy with someone who would tie Mueller’s hands or fire him. The worst thing they can do to Trump is suffer the insults in silence and stay put, forcing him to put up with them, and with Mueller, or to fire one or more of them and risk both a ferocious political backlash *and* total chaos at the DOJ. Remember, the number three spot at the Department is already vacant due to Rachel Brand bailing out for a Walmart job. If Trump canned Rosenstein and then Sessions quit, the top three positions at Justice would be unfilled.
And with a 51/49 Senate and Democrats totally committed to protecting Mueller, there’d be no easy way of filling them. Chuck Schumer might resolve to oppose anyone Trump nominates as payback for the Merrick Garland/Neil Gorsuch gambit. “We’re not considering voting yes on any nominees until after the midterms,” he might say. “Let the voters say whether they want a Democratic or Republican Senate majority deciding if Trump’s next picks should run the DOJ.” McConnell still has 51 votes for confirmation potentially but that’s tricky business. At least two, Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, are retiring and have nothing to fear from crossing Trump, which both enjoy doing. Some Senate Republicans support a bill to protect Mueller from being fired and would presumably look dimly on Trump trying to appoint a crony to oversee Russiagate. Even cronies who are qualified to do the job, like Rudy Giuliani or Chris Christie, are probably unconfirmable due to unrelated baggage like Bridgegate. A few months ago, it looked like Trump could solve a vacancy problem at the DOJ by lateraling over EPA chief Scott Pruitt, a former attorney general of Oklahoma. But with all of the ethical hits Pruitt’s taken lately, moving him in at Justice would make a “Saturday night massacre” scenario even more politically painful for POTUS.
Lefty Bill Scher poses an interesting what-if:
In an alternate universe, Rudy Giuliani isn't vainglorious, shelves his ludicrous desire to be Secretary of State, takes the AG offer (instead of it going to Sessions), and never appoints a special counsel https://t.co/qTWmsidsLW
— Bill Scher (@billscher) April 20, 2018
Could be! In fact, the NYT story he links to notes that “Some close to the president believe he could try to replace Mr. Sessions with Mr. Giuliani in the coming months.” If Trump had nominated Giuliani instead of Sessions, AG Rudy would have had no conflict of interest barring him from overseeing the Russiagate probe (or would he?) so it would have been up to him to decide what to do after Trump fired Comey. Probably he would have done nothing. And it’s at least possible that Rudy would have squeaked through the Senate in a confirmation vote for AG at the start of Trump’s term. Rand Paul would have voted no but Joe Manchin, for one, likely would have canceled him out by voting yes. (Manchin voted for Sessions, after all.) Giuliani’s problem was that, as the Times notes, there were “concerns about his business dealings and paid speeches to a shadowy Iranian opposition group that until 2012 was on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations.” But he could have tried to counter that with his 9/11 “America’s mayor” pedigree and his experience as U.S. Attorney in Manhattan. Red-state Democrats might have tilted yes. Or, he could have won a 51/49 or 50/50 cliffhanger.
But that moment has probably passed, especially now that Giuliani’s a member of Trump’s legal team tasked with, ahem, negotiating an end to the Russiagate probe with Mueller. How could a Senate that’s worried about Trump thwarting Mueller ever vote to confirm one of Trump’s lawyers as Mueller’s new supervisor?
For your exit quotation, an interesting tidbit from the Times story: “[A]fter the raid on Mr. Cohen, many more lawyers have become interested in working for Mr. Trump, according to people briefed on the matter. The lawyers believe the government overstepped its bounds by executing a warrant at a lawyer’s office and have contended the government violated the attorney-client privilege between Mr. Cohen and his clients.” The Cohen raid wasn’t a total disaster for POTUS! Just mostly a disaster.