President Trump has had a difficult week. There has been bad legal news on several fronts and the president responded as he often does. In an interview with Fox News, Trump denied Russian collusion and blasted Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his disloyalty in recusing himself from the Russia investigation.
One of Trump’s chief complaints is that Sessions took the job of attorney general without telling Trump in advance that he would recuse himself. In reality, Sessions had no reason to recuse himself until after he was sworn in on Feb. 8, 2017. A few weeks after he took office, it was revealed that Sessions had met with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak during the 2016 campaign despite stating during his confirmation hearings that he had not had contact with Russians in that time. After the revelation, Sessions recused himself on March 2 citing Justice Department regulations that “no DOJ employee may participate in a criminal investigation or prosecution if he has a personal or political relationship with any person or organization substantially involved in the conduct that is the subject of the investigation or prosecution, or who would be directly affected by the outcome.”
The renewed spat between the president and the attorney general has rekindled speculation that Trump may fire Sessions. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) speculated that the president is “very likely” to dismiss Sessions after the midterm elections. Now Ben Sasse and other Republican senators are warning the president against removing the attorney general.
“I find it really difficult to envision any circumstance where I would vote to confirm a successor to Jeff Sessions if he is fired because he's executing his job, rather than choosing to act as a partisan hack," Sasse (R-Neb.) said on the Senate floor.
“The attorney general of the United States should not be fired for acting honorably and for being faithful to the rule of law,” he added.
“It would be a very, very, very bad idea to fire the attorney general because he's not executing his job as a political hack,” Sasse said. “That is not the job of the attorney general. The attorney general's job is to be faithful to the Constitution and to the rule of law.”
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) seemed to agree with Sasse, telling reporters that she didn’t “see the president being able to get someone else confirmed” if Sessions was removed.
Meanwhile, President Trump left no doubt what he wants with a pair of early morning tweets, in which he responded to Sessions’ statement that the “Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations.”
“Jeff, this is GREAT, what everyone wants,” the president tweeted, before adding unironically, “So look into all of the corruption on the ‘other side’ including deleted Emails, Comey lies & leaks, Mueller conflicts, McCabe, Strzok, Page, Ohr, FISA abuse, Christopher Steele & his phony and corrupt Dossier, the Clinton Foundation, illegal surveillance of Trump Campaign, Russian collusion by Dems - and so much more.”
At this point, President Trump is stuck with Sessions. The attorney general seems to have no plans to leave his post even after more than a year of withering criticism and attacks from the president. If Trump did fire Sessions, there would be little time to pick and confirm a new nominee before the new Congress is seated next year. In any case, the growing revolt from Republicans in the Senate makes it doubtful that a nominee more friendly to Trump could be appointed. In the absence of a new attorney general, control of the Department of Justice would fall to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is not exactly a Trump favorite either. It’s possible that election results might make firing Sessions after the election even more problematic.
Donald Trump picked Jeff Sessions to head the Department of Justice. Sessions is doing his job with integrity and without regard for partisanship. This is obviously what upsets the president since he wants someone who can steer the Russia investigation away from his administration and focus the efforts of the DOJ onto his political enemies. Nevertheless, it seems unlikely that Trump will be able to rid himself of Sessions before his term ends in 2021.
[Photos credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr]