In an extraordinary turn of events, the President of the United States administered a blistering dressing down to his Attorney General, in public, Wednesday evening July 19. It was the sort of observation that would have produced a quick resignation from most cabinet members. It may have been intended to have that consequence in this case.
But – also part of the extraordinary turn – it had no such effect upon Attorney General Jeff Sessions. On Thursday morning, the AG proceeded with a planned announcement of the Justice Department’ dismantlement of an illicit on-line market, AlphaBay. He declined to say anything in response to the President’s comments, except to reiterate how much he loves his job.
Even in a busy news cycle (O.J. Simpson’s parole hearing, Senator McCain’s cancer, California’s wildfires), this news stood out.
The President’s statement was: “Sessions should never have recused himself [from the Russia-Trump campaign investigation] and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else.”
From the Left
The chief reaction from the left of center thus far seems to be amusement. George Takei, of Star Trek fame, felt inspired to tweet out a limerick on the subject.
Senator Chuck Schumer is also amused and concise:
When the chuckles die down, commentators on the left find themselves amazed to be on Sessions’ side of anything. As Leon Neyfakh wrote in Slate, “the fact that Sessions did the right thing stands, in retrospect, as the biggest surprise of the Trump era so far and one of the only instances in which this administration has lived up to a typical standard of governmental ethics.”
Matthew Yglesias, at Vox, wrote (perhaps with some disappointment of his own between the lines) that he doesn’t believe Trump’s unhappiness with Sessions has damaged their “day-to-day working relationship” but he thinks the notion that Sessions should have stayed on in order to spare Trump “the need to face an independent counsel” demonstrates Trump’s own sense of himself as immune from legal process or mandates.
Jack Holmes, writing for Esquire, said that though it’s a given that Trump is wiiling to throw Sessions under the proverbial bus, we also know now that “he expects the institutions of government to serve not just the president, but his own personal interests.” Trump has disclosed an attitude here that is “a hallmark of authoritarian regimes.”
Charles Pierce, also in Esquire, adds that Sessions was “the very first semi-well-known national Republican to lend his credit to the Trump campaign.” That might mean that Pierce thinks Sessions is now on the receiving end of karmic pay-back.
From the Right
From the right, the immediate reaction was that Sessions is ‘one of us’ (and has better credentials to be so considered than the new President does) and so should be defended. Tucker Carlson, a host on Fox News, said that Trump’s criticism of his Attorney General was “a worrisome sign the President may be forgetting who is on his side.” Carlson thinks such loose public talk is a “useless, self-destructive act.”
In an analogous reaction, Bill Kristol, the son of the man who invented the label “neoconservatives,” tweeted that Sessions has a long record of championing conservative causes, and that Trump’s comments about Sessions, along with the fact that there were too few conservatives rallying to his defense, illustrates that #TrumpismCorrupts.
But others on the right accepted Trump’s narrative. Tom Fitton, the President of Judicial Watch says “Sessions should un-recuse himself and get rid of Mueller. This [investigation of any Trump-Russia connection] is a political effort to jail the president and his family because people don’t like him.”
Senator Rand Paul supports Trump on this, too. That’s an intriguing fact because Paul is at the center of the “Freedom Caucus,” a group of Senators who thought that Trumpcare was too much like Obamacare, and thus who opposed it, preferring to see the real Obamacare remain the law rather than see a slightly watered down substitute in the false name of its “repeal.”
His views get attention. As of noon Friday, Sen Paul’s tweet on the subject of Sessions-and-Trump had been re-tweeted 14 thousand times, and “liked” 35 thousand times.