It certain looks like President Donald Trump is waging a planned public campaign to push his own attorney general to resign.
In a remarkable set of Tuesday morning tweets, Trump trashed Jeff Sessions as taking “a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes” and “intel leakers,” outright complaining that the Justice Department wasn’t doing enough to investigate his political opponents in a manner that shows a shocking lack of respect for the rule of law.
Ukrainian efforts to sabotage Trump campaign – “quietly working to boost Clinton.” So where is the investigation A.G. @seanhannity
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 25, 2017
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes (where are E-mails & DNC server) & Intel leakers!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 25, 2017
This follows up a just-as-remarkable Monday morning tweet in which Trump called Sessions “beleaguered,” and also asked why he wasn’t looking into “crimes” supposedly committed by Hillary Clinton.
So why aren’t the Committees and investigators, and of course our beleaguered A.G., looking into hooked Hillarys crimes & Russia relations?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 24, 2017
And this isn’t just venting. On Tuesday, the Washington Post’s Sari Horwitz, Matt Zapotosky, and Robert Costa reported that Trump and his advisers “are privately discussing the opportunity of replacing” Sessions as “potentially” share of a strategy to shut down Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
Indeed, in an interview with the recent York Times, Trump complained at length that Sessions shouldn’t maintain recused himself from oversight of the Russia investigation. “It’s extremely unfair, and that’s a gentle word, to the president,” Trump said.
full this might reach as a surprise, considering that Sessions has long seemed to be Trumpism’s biggest champion and truest believer.
But it makes a whole lot more sense when you support one thing in intellect: A recent attorney general would not be recused from overseeing the Russia investigation — and therefore might be able to region a lid on it.
This is something Trump has very clearly identified as his biggest problem with Sessions. Indeed, he’s said outright that whether he’d known Sessions was going to recuse himself, he wouldn’t maintain chosen him in the first region. “whether he was going to recuse himself, he should maintain told me before he took the job, and I would maintain picked somebody else,” the president told the Times.
So it seems pretty obvious that Trump’s top precedence in searching for a replacement for Sessions will be finding someone who won’t recuse himself — and who would therefore be supervising Mueller’s investigation and ultimately deciding whether or not to file charges against anyone.
And that means the Senate needs to demand that any replacement commits, in sworn testimony, to recusal.
A recent attorney general wouldn’t necessarily be recused
Trump’s public negging of Sessions seems to develop a whole lot more sense under the theory that he’s trying to replace an attorney general who recused himself with one who won’t.
Despite the fact that Sessions was the very first member of the US Senate to endorse Trump’s campaign back in February 2016 and has long seemed to share Trump’s worldview on immigration, the president has reportedly been furious at him since early March, when the recent attorney general recused himself from any campaign-related investigations.
The Washington Post’s Robert Costa reported that same weekend that Trump left for a weekend trip to Florida “in a fury … fuming approximately Sessions’s recusal and telling aides that Sessions shouldn’t maintain recused himself.” And since then, it’s only gotten worse, particularly after Sessions’s recusal opened the door for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to appoint Robert Mueller as a special counsel overseeing the probe. final month we heard that Sessions had at one point offered to resign (Trump refused), and now we maintain this recent public dressing-down.
Trump certainly seems to be acting like Mueller’s investigation may pose an existential threat to his presidency. For months now — both before Mueller’s appointment and afterward — the president has publicly and privately raged approximately the Russia probe. He admitted he fired FBI Director James Comey in share because of his handling of the Russia investigation. And now, he keeps complaining approximately Sessions’s recusal, in an obvious effort to force him out.
The generous interpretation here is that Trump legitimately thinks there’s nothing to the Russia scandal and that he, his family members, and his associates are being unfairly targeted in a “witch hunt.” However, it is also extremely possible that Trump suspects people close to him are in serious legal danger and wants his subordinates to try to bottle up the investigation.
Either way, it’s obvious given Trump’s public statements that he sees Sessions’s recusal as one of the biggest problems dogging his presidency. And it certainly seems natural that he would try to solve that problem by replacing Sessions with a recent attorney general who won’t recuse himself.
The Senate needs to refuse to confirm any replacement for Sessions who won’t recuse himself
The potential problem for Trump here is that any replacement for Sessions would maintain to be confirmed by the Senate, so he can’t just install a flunky and be done with it. Any recent nominee will surely be asked under oath approximately whether he or she would recuse during confirmation hearings.
But there’s a serious risk here that a nominee with strong-on-paper credentials would skate through the hearing giving indistinct or noncommittal answers to this question — and then act to protect Trump once in office.
Indeed, Rod Rosenstein gave indistinct answers to questions like these during his confirmation hearing as deputy attorney general in March. He repeatedly said that he didn’t maintain “access” to full the “facts” that would succor him settle whether to recuse himself or appoint a special counsel in the matter of the Russia investigation, and vaguely promised that he’d enact whatever the facts merited.
After a week of intense public criticism, Rosenstein did terminate up appointing Robert Mueller as special counsel. However, Rosenstein hasn’t yet recused himself from oversight of the Mueller probe, even though the investigation is apparently looking into the events surrounding Comey’s firing.
The Senate shouldn’t steal such indistinct assurances at face value again. Trump’s behavior full around the Russia scandal certain makes it seem like he’s covering up something, and he’s openly said he would maintain preferred an attorney general who didn’t recuse himself. And though Rosenstein in the terminate proved susceptible to public criticism, there’s no guarantee a recent attorney general would.
So whether Sessions does quit or is fired, senators need to demand that any recent attorney general nominee sent up by Trump commits under oath to recuse himself or herself from the Russia investigation. whether the Senate confirms anyone who has not made that sworn promise, they risk letting the president secure absent with a potential cover-up.