That’s the top headline in today’s Washington Post (paper edition). I’m not sure why it’s newsworthy, though. Naturally, a Cabinet member wants to be in the good graces of his boss, the president. There’s no job security, and not much chance of being very effective, without the president’s favor.
It would be newsworthy if a Cabinet member tried to curry favor by acting lawlessly. However, nowhere in the Post’s article do reporters Josh Dawsey and Matt Zapotosky point to any lawless measures taken by Attorney General Sessions to please Trump.
The best Dawsey and Zapotosky can do is to note that the Justice Department “has begun looking into matters that Trump has publicly complained are not being pursued.” But it would be odd, and in my view irresponsible, for any department head not to look at matters the president thinks warrant attention.
The Justice Department is not an independent agency. The president oversees it. His legitimate concerns are matters the DOJ should look at.
This was certainly the view of Eric Holder. He saw himself as President Obama’s “wing-man.” In 2013, responding to the question of whether he planned to stay on as Attorney General, Holder said:
I’m still enjoying what I’m doing, there’s still work to be done. I’m still the President’s wing-man, so I’m there with my boy.
The terms “wing-man” and “my boy” suggest a higher and potentially more problematic level of service to the presient than just looking into concerns he raises. Did the Washington Post report Holder’s statement? If so, I can’t find the report.
Dawsey and Zapotosky tell us — and this is what’s newsworthy in their story — that Sessions’ efforts to win the president’s confidence are falling flat. Sessions’ supporters highlight the outstanding work he has done to reduce border crossings, to combat street gangs, to promote religious liberty, and to roll back obnoxious Obama-era regulations. But, as one White House official told the Post, in Trump’s mind none of this “washes away the sin of recusal” from the Russia investigation.
Of course not. Let’s be honest. Trump cares far less about immigration, crime, and religious liberty than he does about the Russia investigation. He wants a wing-man, like Obama had.
Will Trump therefore replace Sessions, as Reps. Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan have suggested he should? I hope not.
Put aside all the fine work Sessions is doing and ask yourself what would happen if Sessions were fired. The Senate almost certainly would not confirm a loyalist — e.g., Chris Christie or Scott Pruitt, two men cited by the Post as possible replacements. It would only confirm a Rod Rosenstein or Christopher Wray type, and only after receiving repeated assurances that he (or she) would not interfere with Robert Mueller’s work.
Absent confirmation of a replacement, Rosenstein would the acting Attorney General. If Trump fired him too, the acting AG would be Rachel Brand. Neither Rosenstein nor Brand (who has a very promising career ahead of her) would play the “wing-man” role. Indeed, it’s because Rosenstein hasn’t played it to Trump’s satisfaction that the president is so angry abou Sessions’ recusal. Neither Rosenstein nor Brand would advance Trump’s substantive agenda as vigorously as Sessions.
Thus, Trump is probably stuck with Sessions, and that’s a very good thing.