Politics & Policy

The President Is Treating His Attorney General Shamefully

President Trump and AG Sessions in May. (Reuters photo: Kevin Lamarque)

Rumors have circulated for months that the president is upset with Jeff Sessions, but rumor is now public — very public — fact. On Tuesday morning, President Trump slammed his own attorney general on Twitter for taking “a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes . . . & Intel leakers!” That rationale is a sham: On the Clinton scandals, Sessions has merely followed Trump himself, who said in late November that he had no plans to pursue an investigation of his erstwhile opponent. In reality, Trump is reported to be upset at Sessions for needlessly recusing himself from the ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign’s connections with Russia, which Trump believes led to the special-counsel investigation.

The story Trump is telling himself is convenient for creating a scapegoat, but it’s also largely untrue. Sessions may not have been legally obligated to recuse himself from the Russia inquiry, but there was a strong political case for his doing so. The more direct cause of the appointment of a special counsel was the unceremonious firing of FBI director James Comey, and the deception surrounding it — which was a mess largely of Trump’s own making.

That the president is taking out his pique on Sessions shows just how cheaply he holds loyalty. As the senior senator from Alabama, Sessions was one of Donald Trump’s earliest congressional backers; he huddled with the candidate regularly throughout the campaign; he was instrumental in shaping Trump’s immigration policy; and Sessions’s communications director, Stephen Miller, is now the president’s senior adviser and chief speechwriter. No single elected official did more to help Donald Trump in 2016. Trump’s conduct toward a longtime ally is shameful.

It’s also no way to run a government. Hundreds of jobs in the executive branch remain unfilled, half a year into the administration, including at the Justice Department, and publicly browbeating subordinates is not going to entice many prospects into accepting appointments. Potential candidates are increasingly likely to want to steer clear of this administration. Needless to say, a half-vacant executive branch is not conducive to the White House’s agenda.

Neither is the president’s obsessive attention to the Russia investigation. At some point, Trump will have to resign himself to the fact that this investigation is not going away, and he would do himself credit by acknowledging that there are good reasons it shouldn’t, starting with the incontrovertible fact that Russia made an extraordinary attempt to influence the American presidential election last year. Even if Trump fires Mueller, his information will (and should) become part of ongoing inquiries by the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary Committees.

If, though, the president wants to keep Bob Mueller from engaging in a fishing expedition — as special-counsel investigations have a habit of doing — he has options short of firing him. Under the regulations governing the special counsel, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein can limit Mueller’s brief and require Mueller to request authority to expand his investigation to new spheres.

Of course, this will hardly resolve the chaos in which the Trump White House finds itself perpetually engulfed. That will subside only when the president becomes more interested in leading his team than in abusing them.


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