The ballad of Jeff Sessions
Two of President Trump's first congressional supporters have been indicted. That means that of the first three national lawmakers to endorse his presidential candidacy, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is the last man standing.
Unlike the others, he is under fire for trying to uphold the rule of law.
Trump's fury with Sessions — which began its low-burn when Sessions recused himself from the Justice Department's probe into Russian election meddling, eventually leading to the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller — has flared up again. Sessions never should have recused himself, Trump lamented on Fox News last week, "or he should have told me! Even my enemies say that Jeff Sessions should have told you that he was going to recuse himself, and then you wouldn't have put him in!"
"What kind of a man is this?" Trump asked. "By the way, the only reason I gave him the job, I felt loyalty. He was an original supporter."
Trump also claimed that Sessions "never took control of the Justice Department." This is a line one of Trump's indicted early backers has used to his benefit, accusing Sessions' Justice Department of having fallen under the control of the other party. "This is the Democrats' arm of law enforcement, that's what's happening right now," said Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), who is accused of rampant and rather galling acts of corruption. "It's happening with Trump, it's happening with me. We're going to fight through it and win."
Look, some of Trump's early supporters were clearly grifters looking for a bigger piece of the pie. Hunter and Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) appear to fit into that category. But that's not Jeff Sessions.
Whatever you think of his views — I happen to believe his stances on drugs and asset forfeiture are misguided — Sessions is different. He left a safe Senate seat, to which he was last re-elected with over 97 percent of the vote, since lost to a Democrat by a Trump-endorsed Republican, because he thought the president was a kindred spirit on policy and ideology.
"I took control of the Department of Justice the day I was sworn in, which is why we have had unprecedented success at effectuating the president's agenda — one that protects the safety and security and rights of the American people, reduces violent crime, enforces our immigration laws, promotes economic growth, and advances religious liberty," Sessions shot back at the president in a statement late last week.
As it turns out, that matters less to Trump than reining in Mueller's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and any possible collusion with the Trump campaign. Sessions was supposed to be loyal, Trump fumed, but he recused himself from the probe without warning (even if it was probably in compliance with Justice Department regulations). Never mind that Sessions has probably done more to advance the administration's priorities on immigration and crime — the two issues on which Trump appears to want to fight the midterm elections — than any other member of the president's Cabinet. He is the highest-ranking proponent of populist and nationalist conservatism in the Trump administration.
Remember, too, that Trump himself has far more to do with the chain of events that led to the appointment of Mueller than Sessions' recusal. Trump fired FBI Director James Comey and then gave conflicting accounts of why he did so, ultimately telling an interviewer — and some Russians — that it was because of the Russia investigation.
Now Sessions is having his character indirectly besmirched by the likes of Hunter. He is having his conservative credentials belittled by House Freedom Caucus leaders who have called for his ouster. And now Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a fierce critic of Trump until he wielded the power of the presidency, is signaling that Sessions' firewall may have cracks by suggesting a new attorney general nominee could be considered after the November elections.
With Trump, the personal beats the political. Trump wanted an attorney general who would protect him like his own lawyer, defending him with the zeal of a Rudy Giuliani, more than he cared about law and order or immigration control. That's why he defends "loyal" supporters caught up in legal trouble (like Paul Manafort) while leaving Sessions to twist in the wind.
The problem is this interferes with both Trump's ability to hire "only the best people" and get the loyalty he demands. What person committed to Trump's brand of conservatism is going to want to take professional risks to serve him after seeing how shabbily Sessions was treated? Even if they believe some elements of the Trump-Russia investigation have been mishandled and the Justice Department should be more responsive to House oversight, they have to wonder how much fealty to Trump's platform will be rewarded.
If Trump wonders why he has associates like Michael Cohen and Omarosa Manigault Newman who surreptitiously tape and then "flip" on him, he only has to look at his constant tweets about Sessions.