The knives are officially out for Jeff Sessions’ position at the Justice Department.
President Trump is reportedly asking his aides what they think about him firing the attorney general, and Tuesday morning he lambasted the “beleaguered” Sessions on Twitter for being “VERY weak” in regards to Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of her emails while secretary of state. A little later Tuesday, new White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci and incoming Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders both indicated in interviews that they believe Sessions’ job is a goner. Then, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) chimed in to say Trump can fire whomever he likes.
So here we are. Whether calmer heads prevail and convince the president to keep Sessions around remains to be seen, but let’s just say I wouldn’t bet my savings on that outcome.
For Trump, naturally, this is all about Clinton and allegations that his own campaign colluded with Moscow to manipulate the 2016 election. This is not surprising, as it seems everything for Trump is about himself, Clinton, Russia and 2016. (I mean, the Boy Scouts speech? Come on, man.) In that sense, this development is hardly a plot twist, though it is certainly another black mark on Trump’s public display of his character and mental state.
That mess of motives makes sense for Trump, but for the rest of us, it’s not the reason Sessions ought to go, as Glenn Harlan Reynolds explains at USA Today in a column aptly titled, “Forget Russia. I’d fire Jeff Sessions over civil forfeiture”:
Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants to steal from you. Oh, he doesn’t call it that. He calls it “civil forfeiture.” But what it is, is theft by law enforcement. Sessions should be ashamed. If I were president, he’d be fired.
Under “civil forfeiture,” law enforcement can take property from people under the legal fiction that the property itself is guilty of a crime. (“Legal fiction” sounds better than “lie,” but in this case the two terms are near synonyms.) It was originally sold as a tool for going after the assets of drug kingpins, but nowadays it seems to be used against a lot of ordinary Americans who just have things that law enforcement wants. It’s also a way for law enforcement agencies to maintain off-budget slush funds, thus escaping scrutiny.
“Presumed to be guilty.” Once in America, we had a presumption of innocence. But that was inconvenient to the powers that be.
Read the rest of his piece here.
As Reynolds mentions, Sessions is an enthusiastic advocate of reinforcing and actually ramping up civil asset forfeiture even as public opinion turns overwhelmingly against it. More broadly, Sessions is, on policy terms, one of the worst additions to the Trump administration. He is the highest judicial official in the executive branch, and his record on criminal justice issues is authoritarian and unethical at every turn.
Were Trump’s focus in this situation not so chronically myopic and self-obsessed, he might listen to the broad critiques Sessions’ approach to criminal justice has garnered, including in conservative circles. He might recognize that civil asset forfeiture is not — as the president himself has put it — when the nice police officers take “a huge stash of drugs” from “bad people.” He might fire Sessions for the right reason, and make a better second pick for AG.
Unfortunately, there’s no sign of that happening: If Trump fires Sessions, he’s rumored to be considering former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani to be our next attorney general, knocking us out of the frying pan and into the callously authoritarian fire.