Thursday, July 20, 2017


The president gave an interview to three New York Times reporters yesterday. Politico says he "turn[ed] against" his attorney general:
Trump turns against his attorney general over Russia

President Donald Trump would not have picked Jeff Sessions to serve as attorney general if he’d known Sessions would recuse himself from the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, Trump told the New York Times on Wednesday....

“Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself, which frankly I think is very unfair to the president,” Trump said. “How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.’ It’s extremely unfair — and that’s a mild word — to the president.”
If you watched Rachel Maddow last night, you're probably expecting a resignation:
“He criticizes Jeff Sessions in such a way that in normal times, we would expect an official criticized this way by the president to resign before the evening is over,” Maddow [said.]
Lawrence O'Donnell went further:
This leaves the attorney general no choice. He must resign.... when a president expresses no confidence in a cabinet member, then that cabinet member owes the president his resignation. When a president does it publicly, which is something we just have never seen before, then that cabinet member really has no choice from that minute forward -- absolutely no choice.... Any self-respecting attorney general of the United States would have publicly resigned as soon as the president's words became public earlier this evening.
I don't buy it. I'll grant that this public dressing-down is extraordinary -- but if you're one of the top figures in the Trump administration, you expect to be humiliated, and occasionally sidelined, while rumors circulate that the knives are out for you. Maybe you're Sean Spicer and you're sent out on Day Two of the Trump presidency to aggressively defend the claim that Trump had a massive inaugural crowd because the president didn't think you did a good job the first time. Or maybe you're Spicer and it's rumored that you're interviewing potential replacements for yourself. Maybe you're Spicer and you're a devout Catholic and the president leaves you off the list of people who'll get to meet Pope Francis.

Maybe you're Steve Bannon and you're being touted as the real president of the United States, and then this happens to you:
... the mercurial president has a long history of turning quickly on subordinates, and the political hit late Tuesday in the New York Post was trademark Trump, using the friendly Manhattan tabloid to publicly debase his chief strategist. The president said Bannon was hardly the Svengali of his caricature, but rather “a good guy” who “was not involved in my campaign until very late.”

Bannon’s associates were caught off guard by Trump’s comments. Some interpreted them as a paternal “love tap” by Trump to assert his own dominance, while others worried they amounted to an indirect firing.
Bannon is still around -- and is reportedly back in favor. Spicer hasn't resigned either.

Trump isn't just now "turning against" Sessions -- he's been angry about the recusal for months. The first reports, in March, said Trump was angry at the staff:
President Donald Trump is extremely frustrated with his senior staff and communications team for allowing the firestorm surrounding Attorney General Jeff Sessions to steal his thunder in the wake of his address to Congress, sources tell CNN.

"Nobody has seen him that upset," one source said, adding the feeling was the communications team allowed the Sessions news, which the administration deemed a nonstory, to overtake the narrative.
Trump continued to fume about this -- so much so that Sessions offered to resign in the spring, as the Times reported in early June:
Attorney General Jeff Sessions offered to resign in recent weeks as he told President Trump he needed the freedom to do his job, according to two people who were briefed on the discussion.

The president turned down the offer....

... Mr. Trump [has] vented intermittently about Mr. Sessions since the attorney general recused himself from any Russia-related investigations conducted by the Justice Department. Mr. Trump has fumed to allies and advisers ever since, suggesting that Mr. Sessions’s decision was needless.

He has also blamed Mr. Sessions for the fallout from an executive order that the president signed for a travel ban on seven primarily Muslim countries, which courts have blocked.
Sessions could have decided not to take no for answer. He could have just stepped down. But he didn't.

I think Trump feels powerful when people he's humiliated lick their wounds and continue to work for him. I think his subordinates grow accustomed to this.

I also think Trump likes having Sessions around, as a living, breathing excuse for all of his Russia troubles. I'm sure Trump has considered finding a replacement for Sessions, who would then take over the Russia investigation, allowing Trump to push Robert Mueller out. But he's surely been talked out of this by some of his advisers.

Maybe Trump thinks he'd rather have Sessions in the tent than outside it. O'Donnell says that Sessions no longer has any reason to be loyal to Trump, and so he'll likely testify against Trump someday, contradicting Trump's version of events. But I think if you choose to work for someone like Trump, then to some extent you probably like prostrating yourself before a petty tyrant.

I could be proved wrong in a matter of hours, but I think Sessions will stay on. And if he goes, I don't believe he'll turn against Trump. His loyalty will endure. It's already endured this long.

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