Evidence mounted Monday of growing strains in the relationship between President Donald Trump and long-time political ally Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
An Axios report published Monday cites “West Wing confidants” claiming the president is floating the idea of replacing Sessions, possibly putting forward former NYC Mayor Rudolph Giuliani as an alternative. The report adds to a steady trickle of media speculation about Sessions’s future that began Wednesday when Trump himself was quoted in a New York Times interview, saying, among other things, “Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else.”
The flood of resignation chatter was stemmed by a series of statements by the White House, Sessions himself, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — who Trump also told the Times he had misgivings about based on his professional roots in heavily-Democratic Baltimore, Maryland. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee-Sanders emphasized that Trump remained confident in Sessions’s ability to run the Department of Justice while Sessions and Rosenstein stressed, in multiple public appearances at the end of last week, that they are proud to serve in their positions and have no plans of leaving them.
Monday saw speculation return anew when President Trump seemed to reinforce Axios’s report when he used his personal Twitter account to refer to Sessions as “our beleaguered A.G.”
So why aren't the Committees and investigators, and of course our beleaguered A.G., looking into Crooked Hillarys crimes & Russia relations?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 24, 2017
Giuliani threw further cold water on speculation, telling CNN not only is he not being considered for AG, but that he felt Sessions’s decision to recuse was the right one.
Giuliani tells @CNN he's NOT being eyed for AG. Then, breaking with Trump he says Sessions "made the right decision" to recuse himself.
— Jeff Zeleny (@jeffzeleny) July 24, 2017
Sources familiar with the patterns of leaking among White House staff tell Breitbart News that Axios’s likely sources for talk of Sessions’s replacement may be linked to power struggles among political factions within the White House. The Daily Caller quoted former Sessions staffers expressing their dismay Monday at how the entire affair is being handled by the president.
What can be certain is that Sessions’s ouster would be a devastating blow to the prestige and prominence of the nationalist-populist underpinnings of the wider Trump movement. Not only was Sessions the first sitting U.S. Senator to endorse Donald Trump for president, he and his staff were instrumental in formulating the ideological framework that would become “Trumpism.”
Sessions spent years as the voice of immigration restrictionism, law and order, and economic nationalism in the U.S. Senate before Trump exploded onto the political scene in 2015. For example, he played a central role in staving off successive attempts by open-borders globalists and their congressional allies to grant millions of illegal aliens amnesty and a “path to citizenship.” What eventually became known as the “gang of eight” were defeated by narrow margins only after a concerted effort by Sessions and his allies, in 2007 and again in 2013.
In 2015, six months before Trump announced his run for president, Sessions and his staff put the principles of nationalist-populism to paper in a 25-page immigration handbook every bit as timely seven-months into Trump’s presidency as it was then. In fact, much of what became of the Trump immigration platform came into his campaign strategy directly by way of crossover Sessions staff. Most famously, campaign speechwriter and now Senior Advisor to the President Stephen Miller served as Sessions’s communications director before officially joining the Trump campaign in January, 2016, going on to pen some of the campaign’s most memorable appeals to Trump’s populist base. Along with former Breitbart News Chairman and now-White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, Miller would help take the nationalist-populist principles, pioneered at Sessions’s office, nationwide in the rollercoaster 2016 presidential campaign.
Sessions himself was no less involved in the burgeoning Make America Great Again movement. While he official endorsed Trump only in February, 2016 after the primary season had begun in earnest, as early as August, 2015, only two months after Trump announced, Sessions appeared on stage with a now-iconic MAGA hat to introduce the candidate.
Journalist Joshua Green, in Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency, his account of the Trump campaign released last week and already an Amazon bestseller, illustrates the political courage the endorsement demanded of Sessions. Green recounts a conversation between Sessions and Bannon just before his final decision as follows:
“They already took me off budget,” Sessions reminded him. “If I do this endorsement and it doesn’t work, it’s the end of my career in the Republican Party.”
“It’s do or die,” Bannon replied. “This is it, this is the moment.”
“Okay, I’m all-in,” he said. “But if he doesn’t win, it’s over for me.”
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, another early and influential Trump supporter, gave a similar account in an interview with Breitbart News’s Editor-in-Chief Alex Marlow Monday, telling him:
I was in the room with Jeff when he hosted us at Trump’s first visit to Washington. He was chairman of the meeting at a time when to be for Trump as a U.S. Senator was a very lonely business…I was with Sessions when Trump had some very tough times with “locker-room talk” and a bunch of other stuff and he looked like he was ten points down. Sessions never backed off it. So there’s a certain degree to which the president – I think – owes Sessions.
Sessions delivered a forceful speech on trade and immigration at the 2016 Republican National Convention. He stood by the President when those who reluctantly endorsed him after his primary win were jumping ship in the wake of a years-old hot-mic recording of Trump making vulgar comments to Billy Bush.
Trump eventually would reward Sessions with a nomination for the top spot at the Department of Justice, a position coveted by many of Trump’s top backers, including, reportedly, Giuliani. After enduring several attempts by the left to derail his nomination, Sessions took office at the Department of Justice in February.
In his tenure as the nation’s top law enforcement official, Sessions has been perhaps the most visible member of the Trump cabinet in bringing the original platform of nationalist populism to fruition. He has spearheaded efforts to defend the administration’s travel ban for certain terror-prone Muslim-majority nations, even to the point that disagreements over how to do so led to the last round of speculation on his departure back in May. Also in the Courts, Sessions’s department is handling the bevy of lawsuits seeking to derail his own and President Trump’s efforts to withhold certain federal grants from so-called “sanctuary cities” that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement efforts.
On the border, Sessions has revised prosecution guidelines, shifted immigration judges to the border, made efforts to hire more, and cleared out Obama holdovers in leadership positions in the relevant DOJ offices — all in his effort to the deliver the crackdown on the scourge of illegal immigration Trump’s base voted for.
Sessions has brought into practice the “drain-the-swamp” ethos that undergirded the Trump campaign, attempting to reverse the legacy of Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch wherever possible. The DOJ’s much maligned “slush fund” that funneled settlement money from companies sued by the DOJ — for example, for civil rights complaints to left-wing groups like the recently renamed National Council of La Raza — is a thing of the past. Similarly curtailed wherever possible is the practice of slapping local police with restrictive consent decrees and federal monitoring.
The concrete evidence of a serious desire to replace Sessions remains slim, and supporters of such a move must be realistic of the prospects for replacing him quickly, especially with a comparably conservative attorney general. Even before he appeared to take himself out of the running while talking to CNN Monday, Giuliani would be a tough sell in today’s chronically divided U.S. Senate.
Sessions himself was approved by a slim party-line 52 vote majority. That same GOP majority now stands at only 51 votes with Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) recent health woes. Giuliani, like Sessions, has never been sheepish around controversy and would not expect any less contentious confirmation hearings than Sessions received.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel for the Russia investigation using authority delegated to him by Sessions’s recusal, has, by contrast, received a fair amount of bipartisan support. Widely seen as a competent and non-ideological federal prosecutor, he served, unusually, as U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland under successive Republican and Democratic administrations. Ninety-four senators voted for Rosenstein’s confirmation and, regardless of Trump’s intended outcome should he ask for Sessions’s resignation, the current DOJ number two appears much more the type of nominee who could be quickly confirmed than a Giuliani or other Trump-backer.
Gingrich, in his Monday Breitbart News interview, expressed his hope things would not come to that, telling Alex Marlow:
Okay, the president’s expressed his opinions, it’s over, move on. Sessions is doing a great job cooperating with Homeland Security on locking up and getting rid of MS-13 Gang members – huge undertaking. He’s doing a great job on sanctuary cities. He is going to turn out to be – I think – a very important attorney general and my hope is the president is going to hang in there and respect the fact that his was his earliest Senatorial supporter, his most loyal senatorial supporter. The president is a very existential guy, he got it off his chest. Enough. That’s over. Let’s work together for a better future.
Sessions, for his part, has yet to comment publicly on either the Axios report or the president’s “beleaguered” tweet.