What I mean is, was this a friendly leak or a hostile leak? I can imagine it both ways.
Relatedly, did it come from someone on Trump’s side or on Sessions’s side? I can imagine that both ways too.
New White House chief of staff John Kelly, in one of his first acts in his new post, called Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reassure him that his position was safe despite the recent onslaught of criticism he has taken from President Donald Trump.
Kelly called Sessions on Saturday to stress that the White House was supportive of his work and wanted him to continue his job, according to two people familiar with the call. The people demanded anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about a private conversation. Kelly, who was appointed to the post the day before, described the president as still miffed at Sessions but did not plan to fire him or hope he would resign.
Scenario one: Sessions and his allies leaked it to reassure DOJ personnel that the Attorney General isn’t going anywhere. The worst part of Trump dogging Sessions on Twitter was undermining his authority within the Justice Department, signaling that he’d be out the door sooner rather than later. This leak helps re-establish that authority.
Scenario two: The White House leaked it with Trump’s approval to reassure the president’s base that their favorite cabinet member is still part of the team. Dumping on Sessions, the one committed nationalist in the administration who’s leading a department, earned Trump some rare flak from the right, even in Fox News primetime. Trump may have wanted to make amends without losing face by apologizing to Sessions himself. Solution: Have the new chief of staff phone Sessions to say that everything’s jake, then leak that fact to the AP. Problem solved.
Scenario three: Someone leaked it suspecting that Trump didn’t tell Kelly it was okay to reassure Sessions. This is the hostile-leak scenario — if Trump finds out that his new chief of staff went out and made personnel guarantees to a cabinet member who’s lost the president’s favor, he might blow up at Kelly and Sessions. I’m thinking back to what a source told Axios about Trump potentially pardoning his associates in Russiagate: “Aides say the quickest way to get Trump to do something is to tell him he can’t.” Kelly telling Sessions he won’t be fired without clearing that with Trump first would amount to telling the president he can’t do something. And that’s especially risky for Kelly given the likelihood that he’ll be praised for imposing discipline on Trump and the West Wing, which will annoy Trump. The president didn’t like it in February when the media suggested that Bannon was pulling the strings in the White House and odds are he won’t like it any better if they start saying it about Kelly. Imagine him reading this story in the paper today and calling Kelly in: “You told Sessions what?”
It’s hard to believe Kelly would do something this presumptuous on his second day on the job without checking with Trump first, but then he did reportedly phone Jim Comey in May to express his sympathies after Comey was fired and considered resigning before Comey talked him out of it. He didn’t like how Comey was treated; he can’t like how Sessions has been treated either. (No one does.) Possibly he took it upon himself to phone Sessions to tell him he’d do everything he can to protect him, without getting Trump’s okay, and then leaked it himself in order to box Trump in. That is, even though it would be risky for Kelly to go over Trump’s head and promise a cabinet officer he won’t be fired, Kelly might be betting that Trump won’t dare undermine his new chief of staff so soon after appointing him, even if he’s angry about the Kelly/Sessions phone call. Kelly has some political capital to spend with the president right now in his honeymoon period and he’s used it — firing Anthony Scaramucci wasn’t a Trump idea after hiring him just 11 days earlier, obviously. Telling Jeff Sessions that his job is safe might not be a Trump idea either, but if Kelly gets results legislatively, stops the leaks, and earns the White House better press, Trump might be willing to cut him some slack. For now.
Per Politico, Kelly’s also cracking down on the qualify of information that makes it onto the president’s desk, insisting that everything be vetted by him before Trump sees it. Exit question: Does that mean no more “Fox & Friends”?