A strange day for Trump and Sessions

This morning, President Trump attacked his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, once again. He complained that Sessions “never took control of the Justice Department.”

Trump fails here to distinguish between taking control of the Russia investigation and taking control of the Justice Department generally. He also fails to recognize that it’s not the Attorney General’s job to protect the president or to promote his political interests — to be the president’s “wingman,” as Eric Holder once described his function as AG.

Sessions fired back at Trump, something he’s been reluctant to do in the past. He stated, “While I am Attorney General, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations.” Sessions also said:

I took control of the Department of Justice the day I was sworn in, which is why we have had unprecedented success at effectuating the President’s agenda—one that protects the safety and security and rights of the American people, reduces violent crime, enforces our immigration laws, promotes economic growth, and advances religious liberty.

Then, in the afternoon, Trump and Sessions were together at the White House. Sessions was there to urge the president not to endorse leniency-for-criminals legislation, at least not before the mid-term elections. Trump decided he will not endorse it before then.

By all accounts, the Trump-Sessions encounter went fine. There was no animosity on display. This was an Attorney General advising the President, and the President taking his advice.

Things became really odd when Trump told Sessions that fentanyl dealers should get the death penalty in certain cases. Reportedly, he wants it in cases where the sale of the drug causes someone’s death.

In the context of discussing the possibility of leniency legislation, Trump’s statement struck a discordant note, to say the least.

Sen. Mike Lee, a key supporter of leniency for drug felons, was not pleased. In an interview, he said the fentanyl death penalty provision would not be added to the criminal justice overhaul because it would jeopardize passage. Translation: Don’t rain on our jailbreak. This bill is about leniency. If you want “tough,” do it on your own dime.

Lee whistled past the obvious disconnect here. It would be daft for Trump to support the death penalty for a fentanyl dealer whose sale happens to cause a death, while supporting legislation that significantly reduces prison time for dealers whose sales don’t.

In both instances, the criminal intent of the dealer is the same. The unlucky dealer gets put to death. His more fortunate counterpart gets a reduced sentence with the opportunity for further reductions if he participates in some form of “rehabilitation” program. A lethal injection for one, an ankle braclet for the other. That’s a ridiculous set of outcomes.

President Trump’s policy positions aren’t always completely coherent, but so far they have never been ridiculous.