Jeff Sessions on hot seat in Trump hints at possible Cabinet shakeup
The clock is once again ticking on Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
President Trump had said his job was safe until Election Day, but he hinted again Monday that a Cabinet shakeup is in the works and Mr. Sessions is likely to be the highest-profile job on the line.
Mr. Sessions has his high-profile backers, including former Attorney General Ed Meese and former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, who say the White House should give him some space to keep working or at least give him the chance for a graceful exit.
Mr. Blackwell said he has been advocating for Mr. Sessions to high-level members of the Trump administration, including chief of staff Gen. John F. Kelly. But he also acknowledges that it is an uphill battle.
“If the president has already made the decision that Jeff has to go, we would encourage him to do so in a way that reflects and respects Jeff’s contribution to the forward movement of his agenda,” he said. “Those of us who have been longtime friends of Jeff have constantly tried to get the president to focus on the advancement of his agenda versus his singular disappointment with Jeff’s decision to recuse himself.”
Most of the president’s frustration with Mr. Sessions stems from the attorney general’s decision to recuse himself from the department’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who took charge of the probe, named special counsel Robert Mueller, who has dogged the Trump team for more than a year.
Although Mr. Meese thinks that recusal was necessary, he also downplayed it in his overall assessment of Mr. Sessions’ job performance advancing conservative causes, which he hopes will continue “for a long time.”
“Russia is less than 1 percent of what the Justice Department is involved in and Jeff is doing an outstanding job running the other 99 percent,” the former attorney general for President Ronald Reagan said.
But the president also has complained Mr. Sessions hasn’t done enough to rein in career employees whom the president sees as part of the “deep state” blocking his agenda. Over the summer, Mr. Trump griped that federal prosecutors could cost the GOP House seats by bringing charges against two sitting Republicans.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who knows both Mr. Trump and Mr. Sessions, said Monday he thinks the attorney general’s time is up.
“Jeff probably will step down. We’ll have a new attorney general most likely next year,” Mr. Graham said in an interview Monday with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.
Even Mr. Sessions’ most ardent supporters concede the attorney general will be out the out door in short order.
“The dynamics are pretty baked, and basically it’s personal at this point,” said Cameron Smith, a former aide to Mr. Sessions during his time in the Senate. “It’s not like Sessions will unrecuse himself.”
Sessions’ supporters hope he can hang on until January, giving him roughly two years in the position, which is average for a Cabinet official’s tenure.
They say the Mueller probe that has made Mr. Sessions a target of the president’s rage could help him remain on the job for a few extra months, since finding a replacement who could survive a confirmation process would be tricky.
Meanwhile, if Mr. Mueller wraps up the investigation and his final report doesn’t ding Mr. Trump, the president can point to Mr. Sessions’ recusal as evidence it was not influenced by the administration.
“If the president is feeling the Mueller investigation is close to wrapping up, he may decide to hold off on any actions until after that as not to complicate the process, especially if he believes the report is not as harmful as the Democrats want it to be,” a former Justice Department official told The Washington Times on the condition of anonymity.
However, the knives are out on other fronts.
A September CNN report said several high-ranking administration members have complained to Mr. Trump about the pace at which the Justice Department is adjudicating asylum cases, creating a backlog. The New York Times said in March tensions had risen between Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and Mr. Sessions over sentencing reform.
Mr. Kushner is pushing for easing sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, a move the attorney general has opposed.
But Mr. Smith wondered whether some of the animosity toward Mr. Sessions among conservatives has been fueled by the president’s personal attitude.
“If you look at where Sessions was at in terms of conservative circles before Trump, he was unassailable,” he said. “People on the right loved Jeff Sessions because he carried the water on any number of topics like immigration. That dynamic has changed because they are ardent Trump supporters. The president has been critical of Sessions so now they are now critical of Sessions.”