The way many of his political enemies go after President Donald Trump is a national disgrace, an antidemocratic, snarling, hateful dismissal of protocol, sometimes of law. Techniques have even included jokes about his getting killed, and you would think no one could go further. Someone can. Trump can.
He’s doing it in his attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions that are at the same time vicious attacks on himself. They portray him as immature, narcissistic and downright mindless. They arm his enemies with still more criticisms and discourage Republicans and any number of civic groups respecting Sessions as an honest, hard-working, capable public servant loyal to the president’s goals.
After all, Sessions was the first senator to back Trump in his bid for the presidency and, time and again, defended Trump’s positions in a knowledgeable, rational way. As attorney general, he has been forceful on getting tough with sanctuary cities and has acted in concrete ways to support police. Under his guidance, the Justice Department recently arrested hundreds of people accused of illegally abetting this country’s murderous opioid epidemic, and the department is now looking into at least six felonious leaks of information from intelligence agencies.
What he did wrong, in Trump’s eyes, was to recuse himself from playing a role in the investigation of Russian intervention in the 2016 presidential election. He took the action for the obvious reason that some had suggested he could somehow himself have been involved in collusion with a Putin gang. He wanted no hint of guiding the probe away from truth and turned it over to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. He’s the one who appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel to get to the bottom of things.
The problem is that Mueller sinks to the bottom to get to the bottom. As an FBI director trying to get the goods on a congressman once, he ignored the law along with urgings that he correct himself from the attorney general and the president. In his current position, he has a good friend, former FBI Director James Comey, as a key witness — despite a law that says nothing doing.
To pursue the case against Trump, he has brought aboard Democratic devotees and, apparently getting nowhere on the Russian probe, expanded his attention to obstruction of justice. Then, perhaps stubbing his toe there, too, he included Trump’s enormous financial holdings. Considering Trump’s billions in assets, my guess is that a persistent enough, government-financed gotcha guy could find something amiss even if Trump had given everything to Goodwill.
On top of all of that, the Mueller office seems from news reports to be leaking lots of stuff, and you can see why Trump is upset. But why take it out on Sessions in public tweets that in Trump’s usual crude way go after the recusal and even laxity in investigating Hillary Clinton. Trump himself dropped the goal of locking her up after the election, but one person who didn’t was former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
In his mayoral job, he was one of the most effective public servants in recent times, essentially saving the city from runaway crime and a downturn in its prosperity. He would be a good attorney general, but an embittered Sessions is not likely to resign and Trump would be crazy to fire him, although that in itself is no deterrence. He could also fire Rosenstein and maybe find a deputy attorney general who would fire Mueller, but obstruction of justice charges would be in his face again.
The main point here is that a president should never, ever go after a good, decent, able Cabinet member in adolescent tweets to the public. Private discussions in the White House? Fine. Frustration at what really could be a “witch hunt” as he calls it? Understandable. But play the kinds of games he is playing on this and one cannot help but wonder about the way he proceeds on other matters.
Jay Ambrose is a columnist for Tribune News Service.