Imagine if Sessions quit a 20-year stint in the Senate to serve five months as Attorney General before being unceremoniously canned.
He could have backed Cruz in the primary and deprived Trump of some populist oxygen. He chose … poorly.
The frustration over the travel ban might be a momentary episode were it not for the deeper resentment Mr. Trump feels toward Mr. Sessions, according to people close to the president. When Mr. Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation, Mr. Trump learned about it only when he was in the middle of another event, and he publicly questioned the decision.
A senior administration official said Mr. Trump has not stopped burning about the decision, in occasional spurts, toward Mr. Sessions. Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who was selected by Mr. Sessions and filled in when it came to the Russia investigation, ultimately appointed Robert S. Mueller III, a former F.B.I. director, as special counsel to lead the probe…
However, Mr. Trump is said to be aware that firing people now, on the heels of dismissing James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director, would be risky. He has invested care and meticulous attention to the next choice of an F.B.I. director in part because he will not have the option of firing another one. The same goes for Mr. Sessions, these people said.
If he was mad at Sessions for losing control over the Russia probe by recusing himself, why didn’t he insist on re-establishing that control by appointing a political crony as Sessions’s number two at the DOJ instead of Rod Rosenstein? Post-recusal, the deputy AG would be in charge of whether or not to appoint a special counsel. Trump could have put Chris Christie or Kris Kobach in there with an admonition up front that he didn’t want any Bob Muellers on his tail later. Instead he greenlit Rosenstein, a more independent operative, for the position. Why?
Trump turning on Sessions is weird even for a mercurial president known for being fickle in his favorites. Sessions was the first major Republican pol to hop aboard the Trump train and is closer ideologically to Trump’s brand of right-wing anti-immigration nationalism than anyone in Congress. One school of thought is that this is just Trump being Trump: His instinct when faced with trouble is to search for scapegoats and Sessions’s decision to recuse himself provides a handy pretext. Another line of thought is that this is Trump’s authoritarian impulse at work. He doesn’t understand, and wouldn’t respect the argument even if he did, that Sessions felt an ethical obligation as a law-enforcement officer to step back from the Russia probe once he ended up tangentially tangled up in it. As he did with Comey, Trump values loyalty above ethics; Sessions displayed the same “disloyalty” to the president by ceding control of the Russia investigation as Comey did in allegedly refusing to pledge his allegiance to the president. In fact, maybe that explains why his irritation with Sessions isn’t as weird as it at first seems. It’s one thing for Comey, who had no preexisting relationship with Trump, to be disloyal on Russiagate. But Jeff Sessions, who’d been part of the campaign and was rewarded lavishly with one of the most powerful jobs in the world? Unthinkable.
There’s a third possibility, less psychoanalytic than the other two. Trump might not be obsessed with loyalty or shifting blame. He may be genuinely afraid of what a runaway special counsel might turn up about him or, especially, his cronies. It’s not collusion with Russia that he’s necessarily worried about; as Lindsey Graham brilliantly put it elsewhere today, “I don’t believe Trump colluded with the Russians because I don’t think he colludes with his own staff.” Rather, it may be more pedestrian shady dealings by Trump’s underlings that end up being unearthed by Bob Mueller. McKay Coppins:
Long before he entered politics, Trump established a managerial M.O. that came to govern his universe of aides, allies, and hangers-on. Essentially, he populated his team with a cast of scrappy, hard-charging mini-Trumps—people who idolized their boss, and sought to emulate him in every way—and then infused them all with an eat-what-you-kill ethos. Employees are rarely paid impressive salaries at first, but nor are they micromanaged. Instead, they are encouraged to hustle their way up the food chain, competing ferociously with each other to win Trump’s respect, and always seeking out new ways to prove their value…
People who have worked closely with Trump told me it’s not hard to imagine how this environment would lend itself to the kind of unsavory behavior by his aides that investigators are now looking for. Between his sprawling business empire and his chaotic campaign operation, Trump spent 2016 running what was essentially Uber, but for the presidency—overseeing a vast fleet of independent operators for whom the only currency that mattered was gaining an edge for the boss. Who knows how far some of them might have gone to get ahead?
If a special counsel was Trump’s worst potential nightmare for whatever reason, it’s inane that he’s behaved the way he has — alienating Comey by leaning on him and then firing him, alienating Rosenstein by kinda sorta pinning the decision on him, then mouthing off in interviews about how the Russia investigation was one of the factors in his decision. That put a lot of pressure on Rosenstein to rebuild his and the DOJ’s reputations for integrity and independence. The obvious solution was a special counsel. I wonder how many lawyers internally warned Trump not to fire Comey for exactly that reason, because it would drastically increase the odds of a Bob Mueller being sicced on him and his deputies. Oh well.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Tuesday declined to say whether President Donald Trump has confidence in Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
“I have not had a discussion with him about that,” Spicer said as sources said Trump is still fuming over Sessions’ recusal from the federal investigation into potential ties between Trump campaign associates and Russia.
Pressed repeatedly on the topic, Spicer said he simply had not talked to Trump about the matter and added: “If I have not had a discussion with him about a subject I tend not to speak about it.”
Trump’s not actually going to drop the axe on another top dog at the DOJ, is he? Especially one he handpicked for the job.
Update: This is more serious than it at first seemed:
Trump/Sessions rift is real. I'm told Sessions even offered to resign. Asked about that, his spokesperson declined to comment
— Jonathan Karl (@jonkarl) June 6, 2017
Update: More from Jon Karl and ABC. The pool is now open: Does Sessions quit before he’s fired or does Trump axe him first?
Trump’s anger over the recusal has not diminished with time. Two sources close to the president say he has lashed out repeatedly at the attorney general in private meetings, blaming the recusal for the expansion of the Russia investigation, now overseen by Special Counsel and former FBI Director Robert Mueller.
But sources say the frustration runs both ways, prompting the resignation offer from Sessions.
The DOJ’s spokeswoman didn’t even bother to deny it when asked. Officially the Department’s not commenting. Belated exit question: What exactly did Jeff Sessions expect when he took this job?