We know, we know. Jeff Sessions has gotten chapter and verse of this Donald Trump gospel since recusing himself from the probe into the Russia-collusion hypothesis. This fun leftover from Trey Gowdy’s appearance on CBS This Morning starts with a New York Times report that Trump tried to bully Sessions into reversing the recusal, suggesting that could constitute obstruction on its own:
The president objected to his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. Mr. Trump, who had told aides that he needed a loyalist overseeing the inquiry, berated Mr. Sessions and told him he should reverse his decision, an unusual and potentially inappropriate request.
Mr. Sessions refused.
The confrontation, which has not been previously reported, is being investigated by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, as are the president’s public and private attacks on Mr. Sessions and efforts to get him to resign. Mr. Trump dwelled on the recusal for months, according to confidants and current and former administration officials who described his behavior toward the attorney general.
The special counsel’s interest demonstrates Mr. Sessions’s overlooked role as a key witness in the investigation into whether Mr. Trump tried to obstruct the inquiry itself. It also suggests that the obstruction investigation is broader than it is widely understood to be — encompassing not only the president’s interactions with and firing of the former F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, but also his relationship with Mr. Sessions.
How exactly does this constitute obstruction of justice? Sessions reports directly to Trump, who has the authority to make such demands, even if they are bad ideas. Bad ideas do not in and of themselves constitute obstruction of justice. Even if this took place as the NYT describes, the fact that Sessions refused the demand and remained in the job is a pretty clear indicator that the intent was not to obstruct the probe. Trump could have fired him at any time, which might have been more problematic, but didn’t.
We’ll get back to that in a moment. After Gowdy poured cold water all over the “spygate” theory with John Dickerson, he had enough left over to pour some on the Times story as well. Not only does Gowdy not believe this would constitute an obstruction of justice, Gowdy thinks Trump had good reason to be angry with Sessions over the recusal (skip to ~4:30):
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: … If he made that conversation, “reverse yourself,” would that constitute obstruction of justice?
GOWDY: I don’t think so. I think what the president is doing is expressing frustration that Attorney General Jeff Sessions should have shared these reasons for recusal before he took the job, not afterward. If I were the president and I picked someone to be the country’s chief law enforcement officer, and they told me later, “Oh, by the way, I’m not going to be able to participate in the most important case in the office,” I would be frustrated too. That’s how I read that, as “Senator Sessions, why didn’t you tell me this before I picked you?” There are lots of really good lawyers in the country. He could have picked someone else.
Gowdy’s views on “spygate” may not sit well with the president, but that got a public amen from Trump on Twitter:
So, er … why not fire Sessions then, or any time up to and including now? That’s very much within his authority, and could have been explained immediately after the recusal by saying that Sessions’ conflict was too deep for him to continue as AG. Sessions could then have run in the Alabama special election to win back the rest of his term in the Senate, and Trump could have picked an AG without any connections to his campaign. The more time passed, though, the more threadbare the political motive would have looked. And no matter when such a firing took place, it would have left Trump with the problem of getting anyone remotely loyal to him through a brutal Senate confirmation hearing.
Instead, Trump has employed a weirdly passive-aggressive campaign on social media to push Sessions into resigning. For better or worse, though, Sessions isn’t budging no matter how many times Trump slags him in public. In for a penny, in for a pounding, so to speak. If Sessions does bail, though, maybe Trump should consider Gowdy for the job. He might not be as loyal as Trump would demand, but he’s a straight shooter who might get through a Senate confirmation hearing intact, who also has some free time coming up soon. But don’t bet on Gowdy staying silent for a few days of passive-aggressive slagging, let alone a full year of it.