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Thu Nov 8, 2018, 04:12 AM

Jeff Sessions' biggest crime? Putting loyalty to his office above Trump


Jeff Sessions' biggest crime? Putting loyalty to his office above Trump

Lawrence Douglas

Thu 8 Nov 2018 04.51 GMT

In an act of unusual forbearance, President Trump waited a full 12 hours after the end of the midterm elections to sack Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Clearly the president had been itching to get rid of Sessions for months. No matter that Sessions had been one of Trump’s earliest and most vocal supporters, endorsing the then-candidate when no other Republican senator was willing to embrace the untethered reality TV star as a serious political force. But the early bromance quickly soured, and for most of his unhappy tenure at the helm of the Justice Department, Sessions became one of Trump’s favorite targets of ritualistic humiliation.

The offense? In March 2017, Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe when it emerged that he had misremembered certain meetings with the Russians during the campaign. Trump likes to claim he doesn’t hold grudges – witness his recent campaigning for “lyin’ Ted” Cruz – but Sessions’ act was unpardonable. In recusing himself, the attorney general took control of the Russia probe out of the hands of a Trump loyalist, and handed it to Rod Rosenstein, where it remained until today. Sessions placed loyalty to his office above fealty to his chief, the same sin that got James Comey axed.

Only having fired Comey, Trump could not fire Sessions, too – at least, not without risking a firestorm that might threaten a president who had already demonstrated a strong pyromaniacal streak. That in any case is what Trump’s lawyers and advisors told him, and against his better instincts, Trump listened.

And so Sessions clung to his position. Cabinet officials serve at the pleasure of the president, but in this case, the beleaguered former Senator served at the president’s wrath. If Trump couldn’t directly fire Sessions, he could at least make his life miserable, targeting him with a steady stream of gratuitous and belittling insults.

But even that did not satisfy Trump. He quickly turned his fury against the entire Department of Justice, a vast federal bureaucracy with 100,000 employees, responsible for upholding the rule of law in the nation. In presidential tweets and interviews, the Department of Justice became rebranded the Department of “justice” – the scare quotes signaling an unprecedented attack by the nation’s chief executive on his own administration of justice.

Now the president can a breathe a little more easily. Sessions is gone, and in his place is Matthew Whitaker, who, as acting attorney general, formally takes charge off the Russia probe. Whitaker looks to be the kind of loyalist Trump lacked in Sessions. Whitaker has publicly warned Mueller against straying into Trump’s finances, calling any such probe, yes, a “witch hunt.” He has also publicly mused how one might go about eviscerating the Mueller investigation without formally disbanding the whole operation. All this makes it transparently clear that Whitaker should promptly recuse himself – which, alas, is precisely the reason why Trump has promoted him in the first place.

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