Lewis Morris / Jul. 26, 2017

Trump’s Baffling Attacks on His Own Attorney General

He called Sessions “beleaguered,” “weak,” and challenged his endorsement as being due to Trump’s own big rallies.

The White House shakeup that began last week with the departure of Press Secretary Sean Spicer and key members of the communications team is not over. In fact, more names are potentially being added to the hit list, chief among them Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Sessions has been one of Donald Trump’s staunchest supporters going all the way back to the crazy days of the 2016 campaign. The two men share similar views on immigration enforcement, being tough on crime, and connecting directly with working class voters. Sessions is arguably the administration’s foremost conservative, giving Trump bona fides with a voting bloc that has provided steadfast support while many other Americans either scratch their heads about the president or downright loathe him.

So why is Trump hinting so strongly that Sessions’ days are numbered? His new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, and his new press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, have both suggested publicly that Sessions is on the way out.

But far more pointed are Trump’s own barbs. Trump told The New York Times that if he’d known Sessions would recuse himself from the Russia probe, he never would have nominated him. He said in a press conference that he’s “disappointed in the attorney general.” In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Trump scoffed that Sessions only supported him because he had “massive numbers” show up at rallies in Sessions’ home state of Alabama (as if Sessions was in any danger of losing his seat in deep-red Alabama). Trump’s also gone on a Twitter rant calling Sessions “beleaguered” and accusing him of being soft on White House leaks and of taking “a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes.”

Of course, after the election, Trump himself said he didn’t want to pursue the Clintons. “I don’t want to hurt the Clintons, I really don’t,” Trump said. “She went through a lot and suffered greatly in many different ways.” Oh, and by the way, the Clinton Foundation has done “good work,” he said. But never mind that now.

Is it possible that the Russian probe recusal got so far under Trump’s skin that he’s willing to cut one of his most loyal soldiers loose? Trump professes to be big on loyalty, but he is also no fan of weakness and he doesn’t suffer fools gladly. In his view, Sessions’ perceived weakness in the face of the opposition is a bigger disadvantage than his loyalty is an asset.

It was not a legal necessity that Sessions recuse himself from the Russia probe. It was merely an attempt to quell the Democrat attack against the administration in its early days. As Trump suspected, and most of us know by experience, Sessions’ recusal had no effect whatsoever on the anti-Trump forces. Democrat sharks only smelled fresh blood in the water and pushed their attack with renewed vigor. Now Trump has to face Robert Mueller and his biased investigative team without Sessions in his corner. It would seem that an old Washington hand like Sessions would have realized this. Trump knew it, and he didn’t have any Beltway experience at all.

Sessions is, or at least was, a Trump ally. But don’t forget that Trump was elected by a populist wave that is absolutely fed up with Washington politics and its career politicians. For better or worse, that includes Jeff Sessions. People had no choice but to take Trump’s promise to drain the swamp seriously after the firing of James Comey. He’s still holding the plug in his hand, and now Sessions and several other Beltway members of the White House team are circling the drain.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price found himself on the receiving end of a none-too-subtle warning from Trump at a speech to the Boy Scouts of America. Trump warned Price that he would be fired if health care reform doesn’t pass the Senate. It was almost certainly a joke, but with Trump, who can be sure?

Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and much of what remains of the White House communications team are in Scaramucci’s crosshairs. The new communications director has sworn he’ll shut down the leaks that have plagued the White House — even if it means wiping out the whole team and starting from scratch.

Opponents of Trump’s brash political style will say good luck finding replacements. As the reasoning goes, who would want to join this chaotic White House? Don’t kid yourselves. There are countless people who would take a job in the West Wing in a heartbeat. Whether they are qualified or not is another matter.

Staffing issues aside, Trump’s thoughts may be hard to read, and his actions may be nearly impossible to predict. But his brand of politics shouldn’t be a mystery anymore. He’s no fan of the city in which he works. He doesn’t like the bureaucracy that everyone around him is comfortable navigating. And in this, he embodies the mindset of the voters who elected him.

There is plenty to cheer in his efforts to drain the swamp, and there’s nothing wrong with firing people who aren’t on board with the team. But Trump still has to govern for at least three and a half more years. He’s going to need a friend or two on the inside to help him out. We’ve strongly disagreed with Sessions’ expansion of civil asset forfeiture, which we consider constitutionally dubious at best, yet Sessions’ crackdown on sanctuary cities is welcome and he’s far better than some of the alternatives being floated for the post. Trump should lay off the insults and keep Sessions on board. And Sessions should call Trump’s bluff and stay.

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