If you’re looking for a hero in the soap opera surrounding Donald Trump, you probably wouldn’t have chosen Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Not with easy alternatives like Defense Secretary James Mattis or UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, who are doing their jobs admirably and ethically.
At the start of Trump’s term, Sessions would have been down the list of Cabinet MVP’s a little. Or a lot.
He was the first senator to endorse Trump when qualified alternatives were still in the race. His background wasn’t that distinguished, unless you’re a hardline partisan who likes very Red Republicans or deep Blue Democrats. He was even rejected for federal judgeship in 1986 because of charges that he was a bit too friendly with the KKK.
But Sessions, of all people, is emerging as a rare voice for integrity in this chaotic administration - even though he has eagerly enforced Trump’s overall policies. First he recused himself from the investigation into Russian meddling in the election because he had been involved in the Trump campaign. Any law school professor - or first-year student - would confirm that this was the only proper course of action.
That infuriated Trump because he clearly wanted the whole question ignored or given a quick once-over. Now, the greater service that Sessions is doing to the nation is refusing to resign in the face of unprecedented insults from Trump, who is clearly trying to shame him into quitting. The prez apparently hasn’t realized that even this Republican Senate might not approve the kind of hack he wants for the job, but that’s another issue.
Sessions, whatever you think of him, is a lawyer and a former prosecutor. He knows what’s inside those law books in his office. Because of that, he is ignoring those signals from the White House to do or say anything in support of Trump. In other words, the role being fulfilled now by Rudy Giuliani.
Last week Sessions laid it out starkly, saying that on his watch, the Justice Department “will not be improperly influenced by political considerations.”
Shazam! You can bet that didn’t go over too well in the Oval Office, where loyalty trumps ability any day of the week. Trump even said of Sessions last week, “You know the only reason I gave him the job? Because I felt loyalty, he was an original supporter.” So much for picking the best and brightest for the federal government’s most important jobs.
It will be interesting to watch all this play out in coming months as the Mueller investigation rocks along, piling up more convictions and flipping more Trump aides. Trump will periodically call for the whole thing to be shut down, or to investigate instead the Democrats who lost. Yet Sessions - and Mueller’s immediate boss, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein - are refusing to roll over, which means Mueller can’t be fired. So like a top-40 radio station, the hits just keep coming.
Trump probably won’t do anything until after the November elections to avoid harming Republican candidates. But it looks as if Democrats will take the House, which would give them unlimited subpoena power even if Trump finds a way to get rid of Mueller. By then Trump would be so furious that he’ll probably fire Sessions anyway, likely tossing in a few insults like his belief that Sessions looks like the cartoon character Mr. Magoo.
We shall see. But when law schools are teaching about this episode in future years, they will tell future lawyers that Jeff Sessions stood up for the rule of law, that he upheld his oath to the Constitution. Now, more than ever, the Cabinet needs men and women like that.
Thomas Taschinger is the editorial page editor of The Beaumont Enterprise. Follow him on Twitter at @PoliticalTom