If Attorney General Jeff Sessions was angry, flummoxed, upset, or disappointed about President Donald Trump’s scathing comments to the New York Times about his performance yesterday, he didn’t show it. During a press conference at the Justice Department to celebrate the building’s success in a big cybercrime case, the attorney general assured everybody in the room that he took his boss’s comments in stride. When asked how he could continue serving as the top law enforcement official in the country when the president doesn’t appear to have confidence in him, Sessions replied, “We’re serving right now. The work we’re doing today is the kind of work we intend to continue.”
The low-key Alabaman vowed that he would continue being Attorney General as long as he thought it to be appropriate — an ironic word to use, since it suggests that Sessions doesn’t think Trump’s blowing of steam in the press is an unforgivable offense.
Apparently nobody on Trump’s legal team and very few on the White House staff knew he was going to give such a blunt assessment to New York Times reporters in the Oval Office, yet another example of the president doing what he wants regardless of counsel from his legal team and his political advisers. Americans have gotten used to Trump speaking his mind without censure and talking in sporadic bursts of off-the-cuff jargon. But yesterday’s interview was one of the more bombastic that Trump gave since he stepped foot in the White House — he has demonstrated with flying colors that the loyalty he craves and demands from his staff won’t be returned if a bad decision is made or if a staffer causes him political trouble. Speaking anonymously to CNN, a White House official griped that “[n]o one was more loyal than Sessions,” a statement that is buttressed by the numerous instances in the past when the former senior senator from Alabama stuck with Trump through thick and thin during the campaign when every other Republican senator was running for the hills.
And what does Sessions get in return? A tirade from his boss in America’s paper of record about his terrible performance in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee and what Trump views as a stupid and unfair decision to recuse himself from the investigation about Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. “If he would have recused himself before the job,” Trump remarked, “I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I can’t, you know, I’m not going to take you.’”
It’s clear as day at this point that Trump blames Sessions for the swirl of scandal engulfing the White House. If it weren’t for Sessions’ recusal, a special counsel with a nearly unlimited budget and a unlimited investigative remit may not have been appointed. Bob Mueller would still be enjoying private practice in his law firm rather than breathing down the president’s neck. The fact that it was Trump’s own decisions — the firing of FBI Director James Comey; the disastrous interview with NBC’s Lester Holt; his defense of Don Jr.; his hinting of dismissing Mueller if he strays too far into the Trump family’s finances — that has brought the White House to this point either doesn’t register in the president’s mind or is considered small-ball compared to what Sessions did.
The irony of this entire story is that Sessions actually did the right thing by recusing himself. He was tied to the hip of the Trump campaign and he met with the Russian Ambassador to the U.S. on two separate occasions. Sessions didn’t want to recuse himself, but he finally relented once the Russia story became about him rather than about Russian hacking. But whatever the his reasons, the Attorney General bowed out as he should have.
How Sessions can continue in his role as Attorney General is hard to comprehend, but rightly or wrongly, he’s decided to stay on board for now. He better be prepared for some awkward meetings and conversations with the president.