The New York Times reports that, at a meeting with Attorney General Sessions in March, President Trump berated Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation and told him he should reverse this decision. Sessions refused.
The Times also reports that Robert Mueller’s team is investigating this incident, along with Trump’s “public and private attacks on Mr. Sessions and efforts to get him to resign.” This “suggests that [Mueller’s] obstruction [of justice] investigation is broader than it is widely understood to be — encompassing not only the president’s interactions with and firing of the former F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, but also his relationship with Mr. Sessions.”
I’ll say. If, true, the Times’ report also suggests (maybe “confirms” is the better word) that Mueller’s investigation is out of control.
Earlier today, Scott put the matter this way: “The Mueller team apparently thinks that Trump can be guilty of a crime for the exercise of one of his constitutional powers (or not!).” One need not adopt Eric Holder’s “wing man” theory of the Attorney General’s role to conclude that the president has the right to urge the man he appointed Attorney General to take on the Attorney General’s role as the person ultimately responsible for a key Justice Department investigation. This conclusion holds even if one believes, as I do, that Sessions’ decision not to take on that role in this particular instance was the correct one, given his role in the campaign that was under investigation.
From all that appears, Trump simply asked Sessions to do his job, as the president understood it. When Sessions declined, Trump took “no” for an answer. He did not order Sessions to reverse himself.
Moreover, Trump didn’t replace Sessions, as he had every right to do. If Trump were trying to obstruct justice via an Attorney General who would act as his “wing man” in the Russia investigation, he would have sacked Sessions long ago or, alternatively, kept Sessions and replaced Rod Rosenstein with a crony.
Indeed, the very fact that Sessions recused himself demonstrated that he was not willing to play the “wing man” role, as Trump must have understood. Trump had no reason to believe that Sessions would “obstruct justice” on his behalf. His request that Sessions become involved was based, presumably, on the fact that he trusted the judgment of Sessions, whom he knew, more than that of Rod Rosenstein, whom he didn’t.
Looking at the bigger picture, the notion of a prosecutor investigating a president’s personnel decisions (e.g., the firing of Comey) or interactions with cabinet members (e.g., Sessions) is troublesome. I’m not denying the possibility that a president could, in the course of making a request of officials in his government, commit a crime. If there were reason to believe Trump had requested that Sessions shoot Mueller, that would warrant investigating.
But a request that a cabinet member exercise his normal duties is light years away from that.
Mueller isn’t just nit-picking, he’s constraining the president’s exercise of his proper powers. If Trump has considered firing Sessions during the past year, he likely has taken into account the possibility that Mueller would seize on this decision as part of an obstruction of justice case. In effect, Mueller is protecting Sessions’ position.
I want Jeff Session to remain the Attorney General. But I don’t want the president, in deciding whether to retain Sessions, to have to worry about how Robert Mueller would react to Sessions’ firing.
Yet, that’s where we are, thanks to Mueller and his team of self-aggrandizing, Trump-hating prosecutors.