At this moment the attorney general of the United States is at the eye of a presidential storm.
Donald Trump is very angry that Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russian investigation.
And now he’s very angry that there’s a special counsel who operates largely outside of his direct control.
So he’s doing what an unfit president and a terrible boss does: He’s venting on Twitter.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes (where are E-mails & DNC server) & Intel leakers!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 25, 2017
Ukrainian efforts to sabotage Trump campaign – “quietly working to boost Clinton.” So where is the investigation A.G. @seanhannity— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 25, 2017
His tweets come after he told the New York Times that he would never have hired Sessions if he’d known the then-Alabama senator would later recuse himself from the Russia investigation, and a day after he tweeted that Sessions was “beleaguered” because of his alleged indifference to “Crooked Hillary’s” crimes.
Oddly enough, it was Trump himself who said after the election that he didn’t want to pursue the Clintons. But that was then. Now, the president is under pressure and lashing out. His new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, said this morning that Trump “probably” wanted the attorney general gone.
If that is indeed the case, Sessions shouldn’t resign. He should clearly and unequivocally signal his intent to remain in his office until the moment the president actually fires him. He should call the president’s bluff.
I don’t agree with all of Sessions’s political and policy choices. I strongly disagreed with his decision to endorse and help legitimize Trump during the primary campaign, and just last week I strongly disagreed with his decision to expand federal civil asset forfeiture. But in my experience he is a good and principled man, a person who believes in and upholds the rule of law, and he has long been an effective and stalwart conservative. In other words, he is just the kind of person this administration needs. And so long as he remains in office, we have a chance to retain a functional Department of Justice.
If he resigns, however, it would represent the second domino to fall in a process that could lead to a polarizing, paralyzing political crisis. (The first domino was Trump’s deceptive, incompetent termination of James Comey. Inexplicably, he thought that ditching the FBI director and misleading America about the reasons why would somehow lessen the heat of the Russia investigation. He was wrong.)
If Sessions goes, Trump will be free to appoint a true lackey to the attorney general’s office and then instruct that lackey to either cripple or terminate Robert Mueller’s investigation.
If Sessions goes, Trump will be free to appoint a true lackey to the attorney general’s office and then instruct that lackey to either cripple or terminate Robert Mueller’s investigation. Such blatant presidential interference — especially after his son, son-in-law, and campaign chair were caught meeting with a person they were told was a Russian government official who offered opposition research on his opponent — would ignite a firestorm on Capitol Hill orders of magnitude greater than any we’ve seen so far.
Yes, there are Trumpkins who want Trump to fire everybody, to pardon every loyalist who might need pardoning, and to end the Russia “witch hunt” once and for all. These people are foolish. Every step against the investigation signals to all but Trump’s base voters that he has something to fear. Every firing pushes GOP members of Congress — many of whom won their districts or states by greater margins than Trump in November — closer to open rebellion. There is a sense that the president is out of control, and even craven politicians ultimately don’t want to lash themselves to the mast of the Titanic. They may resist too late to prevent the fatal damage, but eventually many will resist.
Even worse, if Sessions goes, it also sets the stage for an extended power vacuum at the Department of Justice. An angry Senate would be highly unlikely to rubber-stamp the next Trump nominee, and after watching the way Trump treated his first and most loyal Republican supporter, quality people would be understandably reluctant to accept even the high honor of serving as attorney general of the United States. Thus, we’d likely see the sad spectacle of prominent conservatives withdrawing their names while furious Senate leaders nix the nomination(s) of (an) unqualified Trump loyalist(s).
If Sessions resists, however, the storm may pass. Trump — who, ironically enough, is said to hate firing people himself — may back down, at least for now. The Department of Justice needs functional leadership. Mueller needs the proper time and space to do his job. The American people need definitive answers on the extent of Russian efforts to influence our election. If Sessions stays, there’s at least a chance that the president will come to his senses and this crucial portion of our government can continue to work. If he resigns, it could set in motion a political crisis. The choice is that stark.
The attorney general should stay as long as he can, for our nation’s sake.
— David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and an attorney.