The Corner

Politics & Policy

How About a Truce in the Sessions Fight?

In response to “Unhinged”

The dim forecast Rich and Jonah offer, I admit, is a lot more plausible, but my column today proposes a potential path out of the president’s unseemly and self-destructive pummeling of Attorney General Sessions. A lot of what’s driving this is the assumption that what’s done is done when it comes to (a) Sessions’s recusal and the subsequent (b) appointment of Mueller as a special counsel running a fishing expedition of unlimited jurisdiction under the classified cover of a counterintelligence investigation. But these moves are not irreversible.

Trump can direct his Justice Department subordinates to go back and follow the letter of the applicable regulations. He would be on the side of the law by doing this. And it could not be said that he was firing Mueller or trying to end his investigation. As the column explains, the regs for recusal of an AG and appointment of a special counsel require these moves to be predicated on a criminal investigation that the AG and/or Justice Department are too conflicted to handle in the normal course. To the contrary, Sessions recused because of, and Mueller was appointed to handle, a counterintelligence investigation. The regs do not permit this. If Trump directed the Justice Department to reconsider what it has done in light of the regs, Sessions’s recusal would be much narrower, and Mueller’s investigative warrant would be limited to specified, reasonably suspected criminal violations. We would all finally find out exactly what laws — if any — Trump is suspected of violating.

My column concludes:

Instead of badgering his attorney general on Twitter, perhaps the president could, you know, act like a president and instruct his Justice Department to comply with federal regulations.

Sessions could be directed to consider whether his recusal complies with the regulation that limits disqualification to criminal investigations as to which there is a conflict. To the extent it does not, he should amend the recusal to conform to the regulation.

Rosenstein could be directed to consider whether his appointment of a special counsel complies with the regulations that limit such appointments to criminal investigations or prosecutions as to which the Justice Department is conflicted. He could further be directed to specify exactly what potential crimes the special counsel is authorized to investigate.

Finally, after Rosenstein specifies the crimes, Mueller could be invited to seek an expansion of his jurisdiction if he can demonstrate that he has legitimately found evidence of other crimes.

If this were done, if the regulations were followed, all of us, including the president, would know what crimes the president is suspected of committing . . . if there are any.