Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Trump’s Sessions Abuse

His demand that his AG prosecute Clinton crosses a red line.


By The Editorial Board
The Wall Street Journal
July 26, 2017

Donald Trump won’t let even success intrude on his presidential ego, so naturally he couldn’t let the Senate’s health-care victory stand as the story of Tuesday. Instead he continued to demean Jeff Sessions, and in the process he is harming himself, alienating allies, and crossing dangerous legal and political lines.

For a week President Trump has waged an unseemly campaign against his own Attorney General, telling the New York Times he wished he’d never hired him, unleashing a tweet storm that has accused Mr. Sessions of being “beleaguered” and “weak.”

Mr. Trump is clearly frustrated that the Russia collusion story is engulfing his own family. But that frustration has now taken a darker turn. This humiliation campaign is clearly aimed at forcing a Sessions resignation. Any Cabinet appointee serves at a President’s pleasure, but the deeply troubling aspect of this exercise is Mr. Trump’s hardly veiled intention: the commencement of a criminal prosecution of Hillary Clinton by the Department of Justice and the firing of special prosecutor Robert Mueller.

On Tuesday morning Mr. Trump tweeted that Mr. Sessions “has taken a very weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes. ” This might play well with the red-meat crowd in Mr. Trump’s Twitterverse, but Sen. Lindsey Graham was explicit and correct in describing the legal line Mr. Trump had crossed.

“Prosecutorial decisions should be based on applying facts to the law without hint of political motivation,” Sen. Graham said. “To do otherwise is to run away from the long-standing American tradition of separating the law from politics regardless of party.” Republican Sen. Thom Tillis also came to Mr. Sessions’ defense, citing his “unwavering commitment to the rule of law,” and Sen. Richard Shelby called him “a man of integrity.”

We will put the problem more bluntly. Mr. Trump’s suggestion that his Attorney General prosecute his defeated opponent is the kind of crude political retribution one expects in Erdogan’s Turkey or Duterte’s Philippines.

Mr. Sessions had no way of knowing when he accepted the AG job that the Russia probe would become the firestorm it has, or that his belated memory of brief, public meetings with the Russian ambassador in 2016 would require his recusal from supervising the probe. He was right to step back once the facts were out, not the least to shelter the Trump Administration from any suspicion of a politicized investigation.

If Mr. Trump wants someone to blame for the existence of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, he can pick up a mirror. That open-ended probe is the direct result of Mr. Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey months into his Russia investigation and then tweet that Mr. Comey should hope there are no Oval Office tapes of their meeting. That threat forced Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to appoint a special counsel.

As a candidate, Mr. Trump thought he could say anything and get away with it, and most often he did. A sitting President is not a one-man show. He needs allies in politics and allies to govern. Mr. Trump’s treatment of Jeff Sessions makes clear that he will desert both at peril to his Presidency.

No matter how powerful the office of the Presidency, it needs department leaders to execute policy. If by firing or forcing out Jeff Sessions Mr. Trump makes clear that his highest priority is executing personal political desires or whims, he will invite resignations from his first-rate Cabinet and only political hacks will stand in to replace them. And forget about Senate confirmation of his next AG.

Even on the day that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was scraping together enough Republican votes to avoid a humiliating defeat for the President on health care, Mr. Trump was causing Senators to publicly align themselves with Mr. Sessions. Past some point of political erosion, Mr. Trump’s legislative agenda will become impossible to accomplish. Mr. Trump prides himself as a man above political convention, but there are some conventions he can’t ignore without destroying his Presidency.


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