by Cinzia Croce
Supporters of Attorney General Jeff Sessions are in quite the predicament. They can’t dispute that President Donald Trump has solid grounds for feeling frustrated and disappointed. They can’t criticize the president for saying that if he had known there was a chance Sessions was going to recuse himself, he would have chosen else someone as Attorney General. They can’t deny that the key reason Bob Mueller is roaming around DC — armed with unlimited subpoena power and financial resources — looking for some crime, any crime — is a direct result of Sessions’ fateful decisions to recuse himself and appoint Rod Rosenstein as his number two. Since they can’t counter the validity of the president’s grievances, all that is left is to portray Sessions as a victim and Trump as a disloyal friend.
Eager to defend their idol, some Sessions fans have even gone so far as to suggest that Trump would never have reached the White House if it weren’t for the Attorney General — and that therefore Trump owes Sessions a special degree of loyalty. This assertion is not based in reality. By the time Sessions announced his endorsement, Trump he had already won three out of the four early contests. In Iowa he came in second, which is a remarkable achievement for a candidate with no ground game and who refused to spend a year traveling to all 99 counties. In South Carolina, Trump won so decisively that he racked up all 50 delegates.
Another exaggeration making the rounds among conservatives is the suggestion that Sessions was responsible for delivering evangelical voters to Trump. Evangelicals, tired of electing social conservatives that checked all the right boxes only to lose every battle of the culture wars, had already decided to throw their lot in with the thrice-married, brash New York billionaire, hoping to score some victories. Polls put Trump in the lead in several of the Super Tuesday primaries and was drawing large crowds in the Bible Belt long before Sessions joined the campaign.
The president was wrong to say that Sessions only endorsed him because he was getting large crowds in Alabama. It was a ridiculous claim — the Senator was well-regarded and loved in his state and had no need to become involved with the Trump campaign. It was an unnecessary, petty shot at the Attorney General that only hurt the president. I believe that Sessions endorsed Trump because they share the same populist vision for America, and that no other motive is more important than that. At the same time, it is wrong for the Sessionistas to equate an endorsement with loyalty. There are a variety of motives for endorsing: potential campaign contributions, views aligning with one’s constituency — or just trying to move up the greasy pole. Jeb Bush received numerous endorsements simply because of his family connections. Is anyone going to suggest that they all represented pledges of mutual loyalty?
A better gauge of loyalty is whether an individual stands by your side in the face of partisan attacks — or whether that individual leaves the scene at the first opportunity. In what has to be the mother of ironies, it is the president and his family that are having to deal with a special counsel, and not Hillary “Lock Her Up” Clinton. The Sessionistas say that there is no better individual to lead the Justice Department than their man. They point to his stance on illegal immigration, and his strength in prosecuting criminal gangs and medical fraud. That’s all fine, and we have no complaints with any of that — but what has Sessions done to pursue the illegal leaks, surveillance, and unmasking? What has he done to help the president take on the Deep State? Moreover, much of the progress made in curbing illegal immigration that is being credited to Sessions is really result of the work of DHS under the leadership of General John Kelly. What has Sessions done as far as illegal immigration? He watered down the travel ban — a decision that will come back to haunt the country. He has been solid as far as cracking down on sanctuary cities. But to suggest that Sessions is the only man in America who could deliver what we have seen thus far is another stretch of the truth. Kris Kobach, Greg Abbott, and Ted Cruz would be just as tough illegal immigration, and would not duck and run at the first sign of political pressure.
We are constantly reminded that Sessions is a man of “utmost integrity”. Is failing to tell the president that he was going to recuse himself and become AWOL on the Russia investigation that was gripping Washington a sign of “utmost integrity” or any kind of show of loyalty? The Sessionistas accuse the president of wanting the Attorney General to be his personal attorney when he is the people’s attorney. As many legal experts have argued, our constitutional system has a unitary executive and the Justice Department draws its legal authority from the president as do other departments. If the Sessionistas want a separate and independent DOJ that reports directly to the people, then they need to amend the Constitution and have the people elect the Attorney General instead of being appointed.
Fortunately, there are Sessionistas that do recognize the gravity of the decision by the Attorney General to recuse himself. They fully understand that Sessions is the one who has delivered a potential fatal blow to the Trump agenda that millions of Americans voted for and gave them hope for a better future. Their main complaint is that the president should keep his grievances private instead of publicly humiliating the Attorney General. What they fail to recognize is that the president is taking the only communication channel that is available to him. Since Sessions has recused himself, there cannot be any private discussions about the special counsel or the investigation without violating the terms of the recusal. If Trump were to privately ask Sessions why he has not moved to investigate Hillary and other scandals that took place during the Obama administration, the conversation would surely be leaked to the press — as all others have been — and accusations of Nixonian plots taking place in the Oval Office would immediately hit the headlines and political opinion pages.
If Sessions is truly a man of “utmost integrity”, he will step up and begin repairing the damage he has caused. He should publicly admit that failing to tell the president he may have to recuse himself from the Russia investigation before accepting his nomination was a disservice to the administration. He should denounce Bob Mueller for taking the investigation far afield and Rosenstein for failing to make sure that the special counsel stayed faithful to the original mandate. He should warn Mueller that his appointment of contributors to the Democratic Party risks tainting the investigation as a partisan witch hunt and its outcome will not be credible in the eyes of at least half the country. If Jeff Sessions is truly the man his loyalists claim he is , he will own up to his mistakes and move to dismiss Rosenstein, appoint Rachel Brand as his deputy and she can then begin to rein in the special counsel. Otherwise, he will be another conservative that checks all the right boxes who never scores any victories.