It has been almost unprecedented to watch a president of the United States repeatedly criticize and undermine his own attorney general in the way President Trump has gone after Attorney General Jeff Sessions these past two weeks.
For a man who made hundreds of millions of dollars saying, “You’re fired!” Mr. Trump appears unwilling or unable to say those words now that he really wants to.
As chaotic as the White House appears, Mr. Trump has had some worthy accomplishments in his first six months: confirming a solid Supreme Court justice, recruiting a stellar Cabinet, reforming the broken Veterans Administration and pulling back job-killing regulations, to name just a few. The economy is improving, illegal border crossings are down sharply, and ISIS is on the run. Health care reform passed the House and is alive in the Senate. Tax reform is still possible this year.
But Mr. Trump has also created his own problems, demonstrating a lack of strategy, discipline and focus in his first six months in office.
His deep anger and mounting frustration over the Russia investigation is understandable. After 12 months and dozens of leaks in the media, nothing has been tied directly to the president. All day, every day, Russia consumes the attention of the mainstream media, crowding out coverage of other important policy debates and presidential decisions.
The presence of a special counsel is never comfortable for a president.
President Bill Clinton lashed out at Ken Starr repeatedly, much as Mr. Trump is doing today with Robert Mueller.
There is a tendency to want to limit the reach of a special counsel, but once one is appointed, it is nearly impossible to clip his wings. The better option is to prevent a special counsel from ever being appointed in the first place.
Special counsels are unburdened by budget or time constraints and can investigate anything they want. Their desire begins as seeking justice, but their investigations often morph into justifying their existence and endlessly expanding their mandate for fear that crimes may later be discovered and incompetence becomes their legacy.
This is where Mr. Sessions comes in.
He had no choice but to recuse himself from overseeing the Russia investigation given his role as a top surrogate and adviser for the Trump campaign in 2016. If Mr. Trump wanted an attorney general who would not recuse himself, he should have appointed someone who was not connected to his campaign. The fault lies with the Trump team for selecting Mr. Sessions in the first place.
Mr. Trump now appears unwilling to fire Mr. Sessions, having seen the firestorm he sparked by firing former FBI Director James B. Comey, which brought obstruction of justice into the discussion.
What would Trump gain from getting rid of Mr. Sessions now? That is unclear.
A new attorney general would not be confirmed until after Labor Day, and the confirmation fight would be bloody.
If the purpose of firing Mr. Sessions is to find a way to fire Mr. Mueller, then the president would have to find an acting attorney general who would be willing to take that extraordinary step. Mr. Trump would have to find a candidate willing to take the job knowing that White House interference and a quick sacking potentially come with the post.
But the most significant reason that firing Mr. Sessions makes no sense is that you do not fire Cabinet secretaries who are supporting your agenda, who are beloved by your base and who remain popular on Capitol Hill.
Mr. Sessions was the first senator to endorse Mr. Trump, helping the New Yorker carry a majority of the South in the primaries. He has been a top adviser on immigration and security issues. Two of his top staffers, Stephen Miller and Rick Dearborn, now work for Mr. Trump. Perhaps most importantly, Mr. Sessions gave up his seniority and a safe Senate seat to serve as attorney general. If anyone deserves Mr. Trump’s loyalty, it is Jeff Sessions.
The president needs to slow down. He needs to stop playing checkers and start playing chess.
There is nothing to be gained from firing Jeff Sessions, and even less to be gained by undermining a loyal supporter publicly when he cannot and will not take back his proper recusal decision.
I understand Mr. Trump’s deep frustration over the Russia investigation. But firing Mr. Sessions is not the answer.
— Matt Mackowiak is the president of Austin, Texas, and Washington, D.C.-based Potomac Strategy Group, a Republican consultant, a Bush administration and Bush-Cheney re-election campaign veteran and former press secretary to two U.S. senators. His national politics podcast, “Mack on Politics,” is produced in partnership with The Washington Times. His podcast may be found on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher and on the web at http://www.MackOnPolitics.com.
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