Editor’s note: Andrew McCabe was fired hours before he was eligible to receive his pension, and after this column was published online. For more, click here.
SOMETIMES, IT SEEMS as if, after the Trumpocalypse, all that will remain are cockroaches and Jeff Sessions.
At other times, it seems the attorney general will be fired any second.
Depending on which report you believe, President Trump’s attorney general is his most loyal enforcer. As of this writing, Sessions was expected to fire Andrew McCabe days before the former FBI deputy director’s official retirement. That vindictive move could cost McCabe, a 22-year bureau veteran and frequent target of Trump’s fury, his pension. But being vindictive is how Sessions has kept his job up to now, in the face of Trump’s growing displeasure.
Once, I would have been thrilled to see Sessions get bounced. Sessions has been as cruel as attorney general as he was as an Alabama senator who voted against the Violence Against Women Act, against defining anti-LGBTQ violence as a hate crime, and against $100 million to reduce teen pregnancy by education and contraceptives.
Yet in this shocking political moment, it has come to this: We need Jeff Sessions to keep leading the Justice Department.
If Trump fires Sessions, whoever replaces him as attorney general would likely fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller and end the Russia investigation now burrowing into the Trump Organization.
Sessions’ job security is tenuous. Trump may be gearing up to stage a White House version of the infamous “Red Wedding” from “Game of Thrones.” Along with chief of staff John Kelly, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Veterans Affairs secretary David Shulkin, and HUD Secretary Ben Carson, Sessions is reportedly on the short list to get Tillerson-ed — unceremoniously dumped like the former secretary of state.
Trump has hinted that he’s not done making changes.
“I’m really at a point where we’re getting very close to having the Cabinet and other things that I want,” the president told reporters after he fired Rex Tillerson. After assembling the most corrupt, incompetent, and unqualifed Cabinet in modern presidential history, Trump is making even more extreme choices like former CIA director Mike Pompeo for secretary of state. Trump said he and Pompeo are “on the same wavelength.”
No telling whether Sessions is on that wavelength. Yet it’s only by doing so much of the president’s nastiest bidding that Sessions has survived this long.
Earlier this month, Sessions was in prime attack mode in California, describing advocates of so-called sanctuary cities as “lawless open-borders radicals” and “extremists.” That’s pure Trumpian scaremongering. Seeking a judicial override of three state laws supporting its sanctuary city policies, Sessions filed a federal lawsuit against California.
During that speech to the California Peace Officers Association, he singled out Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf. Sessions falsely claimed that her warning to families about an upcoming federal immigration raid prevented the agents from making “800 arrests.”
Unwilling to spread that lie, James Schwab, the Immigration Customs and Enforcement spokesman, resigned.
“I told them that the information was wrong, they asked me to deflect, and I didn’t agree with that,” Schwab said. “Then I took some time, and I quit.”
So far, Sessions has preferred to lie rather than quit. That’s one way to stay on Trump’s wavelength.
It’s likely no accident that Sessions cranked up his Trump-pleasing anti-immigration rhetoric this month, shortly after the president blasted him — again — on Twitter.
“Why is A.G. Jeff Sessions asking the Inspector General to investigate potentially massive FISA abuse. Will take forever, has no prosecutorial power and already late with reports on Comey etc,” Trump tweeted Feb. 28. “Isn’t the I.G. an Obama guy? Why not use Justice Department lawyers? DISGRACEFUL!”
The Justice Department is looking into the FBI’s handling of surveillance orders under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. For the first time, Sessions pushed back at his boss’s public criticism.
“As long as I am the attorney general,” Sessions said in a statement, “I will continue to discharge my duties with integrity and honor, and this department will continue to do its work in a fair and impartial manner according to the law and Constitution.”
Then Sessions went right back to carrying out Trump’s destructive agenda.
Trump has been angry with Sessions since the attorney general recused himself last year from the Russia investigation. He told The New York Times that, had he known Sessions would do that, “I would have picked somebody else” as attorney general.
The president may still do that.
Sessions hasn’t yet overstayed his usefulness to this administration. He’s already proven that he’s willing to demonize immigrants and rip families apart — whatever it takes to prove his loyalty to Trump and remain attorney general. Still, the clock on his tenure is ticking.
With our political world in chaos, who could have imagined this malevolent, thoughtless man would accidentally become an unlikely bulwark protecting Mueller, the Russia investigation, and the sanctity of our democracy.Renée Graham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.