Terry H. Schwadron

Aug. 30, 2018

To listen to key senators, it sounds as if Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions will be out as soon as is practical, which actually may be after the November elections. Meanwhile, President Trump says White House counsel Don McGahn, who has put himself between Trump and Sessions, will be leaving shortly, though no reason was offered.

While not a fan of Sessions in any substantial way, I must say the next guy to be named will likely be worse. Apart from the direction of the Justice Department in a whole range of issues from policies affecting policing to those about marijuana enforcement and immigration, we can expect that Trump will finally want to name someone who accepts the role he wants as a protective legate.

McGahn, who has cooperated with the all-things-Russia inquiries, has refused to move to fire Sessions on several occasions, it has been reported.

The key question, therefore, will be whether a more acceptable attorney general to Trump would support or dismiss Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III and Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod J. Rosenstein, the widened investigations of the president and his associates and an independent FBI, Justice and judiciary. It will be the major question for any replacement candidate, who, unlike Sessions, will not have to recuse himself from the investigation.

Think Rudy Giuliani. Or Rep. Devin Nunes, Jim Jordan or Trey Gowdy, R-SC, who have been among those demanding that the Justice Department turn over documents from the Mueller investigation in an open attempt to undercut the inquiry. Or any of the legal experts that have been on the president’s list for the Supreme Court.

Here was Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, who said this week that he believes the relationship between Trump and Sessions is “beyond repair”adding that he thinks that the U.S. needs an attorney general that can “work with the president.” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-IA, who chairs the judiciary committee, has made similar comments, and Senators John Kennedy, R-LA, and Richard Shelby, R-AL, acknowledged to reporters that the breach between Trump and Sessions seems unreparable.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke up to keep Sessions.

Still, Graham added he believes that any replacement for Sessions would have to “commit to the Senate and the country as a whole that [special counsel Robert] Mueller will be allowed to finish his job without political interference.” Graham said he expected that the administration would go shopping for a Sessions replacement after the elections.

It’s all a bit of a turnaround for Graham and Grassley. Graham had said in the past that that there would be “holy hell to pay” if Sessions was fired. Grassley has added that the docket for his committee is filled now, and cannot consider a replacement candidate.

Trump often belittles Sessions for his decisions to recuse himself from Mueller’s investigation into possible ties between Russia and the Trump presidential campaign, and for failing to bring charges against Hillary Clinton and “the other side,” as if prosecution was some kind of balancing game to be equally distributed.

Graham said, “It’s a pretty deep breach,” in response to a question about why Trump takes issue with Sessions.

Trump has said Sessions has refused to act against “Democrats” who fill his department. Sessions has noted that Justice Department rules demanded that he recuse himself, and McGahn has noted that the White House counsel represents the presidency and not the individual president.

Sessions finally pushed back last week to say that he would not allow the Justice Department to be politicized. “While I am Attorney General, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations,” Sessions said. “I demand the highest standards, and where they are not met, I take action.”

Mistakenly or not, Trump views former Atty. Gen. Eric Holder as a better model because he “protected” former President Barack Obama and Democrats from unwanted investigations and charges. Trump has made clear that the current “witch hunt” of the Mueller investigations should be shut down, that he and everyone he knows has done nothing wrong, that there has been no collusion with Russians or obstruction of justice by himself to unduly halt the investigations. Obviously, there have been an array of guilty findings and pleas by people in Trump’s orbit, though for crimes tangential to the special counsel’s main investigative thrust.

Meanwhile, the discussion is clearly moving away from the agenda of the Justice Department itself to focus instead, like everything else, on Trump as the central character.

Under Sessions, the Justice Department has turned direction in civil rights, in consumer protection, in policing methodologies, on immigration limits. Sessions’ Justice Department has withdrawn from support for affirmative action cases. It has abandoned policies to bring about policing reforms in communities like Baltimore with questionable records about police shootings involving unarmed black men.

It has been under Sessions’ leadership that the Justice Department has moved to redefine asylum law eligibility. Sessions has remained idle about voter rights and gerrymandering. Under Sessions, the Justice Department has leaned in support of anti-gay religious plantiffs and against those seeking to retain abortion rights. Sessions apparently believes that bathroom issues are more important than civil rights governing transgender people.

It’s a long list. I hope that senators take the chance in any appointment hearings to go well beyond the Mueller matter to discuss attitudes towards so much more that the Justice Department can help or hurt.

I don’t like Sessions, but I am sure any replacement would do yet more damage.

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Journalist, musician, community volunteer