New York Times (Editorial)
July 26, 2017
It’s heartening to see that President Trump’s weeklong, passive-aggressive assault on his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has crossed a line even for many of the president’s most stalwart supporters.
Rush Limbaugh called Mr. Trump’s behavior “unseemly” on his radio show Monday. Of Mr. Sessions he said, “I hate to see him being treated this way.” Over in the Trump-friendly confines of Fox News, Tucker Carlson said the president’s humiliation of the attorney general was “a useless, self-destructive act,” and Mr. Carlson implored Mr. Trump: “For God’s sake, lay off Jeff Sessions. He’s your friend, one of the very few you have in Washington.”
Meanwhile, Republican senators lined up to defend Mr. Sessions and to suggest, ever so gently, that Mr. Trump might want to reconsider his approach.
We can’t disagree with any of this, although we’re puzzled by the sense of surprise. Mr. Trump’s debasement of Mr. Sessions — starting with a mind-boggling interview he gave last week to The Times — is in line with everything he’s said and done since he fired James Comey, the F.B.I. director, in May, in an inept attempt to shut down the bureau’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin to influence the outcome of the 2016 election. Mr. Trump has been unpredictable in many things, but he has been utterly consistent when it comes to resisting any inquiry, however warranted and public-spirited, into his campaign or his close associates.
Mr. Trump’s gratuitous, schoolyard abuse of Mr. Sessions is nonetheless breathtaking. With his thumb-tapping bravado, the president is publicly going after the nation’s top law enforcement officer for doing what professional ethics and department rules required the attorney general to do — recuse himself from any investigations related to the presidential campaign. (Mr. Trump kept up the fusillade on Wednesday, criticizing Mr. Sessions for not firing the acting F.B.I. director, Andrew McCabe, whose wife has political ties to Hillary Clinton.)
Mr. Sessions’s recusal was necessary, of course, because of his role as one of Mr. Trump’s earliest and staunchest supporters, and his own undisclosed contacts with Russian officials — facts that make it impossible for him to maintain the neutrality and independence essential to any credible inquiry. Mr. Trump, who appears to understand little and care even less about the importance of these limitations, thinks Mr. Sessions’s job is to protect him by impeding those investigations. In other words, he expects the attorney general to obstruct justice on his behalf.
Mr. Trump is startlingly blunt about this, calling Mr. Sessions’s recusal “unfair to the president,” as though he is owed a personal loyalty that supersedes the rule of law. The irony is that Mr. Sessions has been the most loyal of Mr. Trump’s supporters, arguably more invested in implementing the Trump agenda than the president himself.
This page is no fan of Mr. Sessions, whose dark vision of America includes a hard-line stance on illegal immigration, a return to the war on drugs and other discredited tough-on-crime policies, and a government newly empowered to seize cash and other property from ordinary citizens without due process. But just as Mr. Sessions was right to recuse himself, he is right to stand his ground now, effectively daring Mr. Trump to fire him.
This demeaning cat-and-mouse game may be shocking to some of the president’s most blinkered advocates, but it only illustrates what any cleareyed observer has been able to see all along, which is that Mr. Trump cares more about protecting himself, his business and his family than anything else. To him, the rule of law, the principle on which America was built, is at best an abstraction. More often it is an obstacle to be evaded.
For that reason, Mr. Trump may in the end follow the advice of the conservative commentator Ann Coulter, who urged him to “be a man” and fire Mr. Sessions. Presumably that would be the first step toward getting rid of Robert Mueller, the special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation. Then Mr. Trump, and the rest of us, might at last learn whether his party will impose any limits on his desecration of the presidency.
A version of this editorial appears in print on July 27, 2017, on Page A26 of the New York edition with the headline: Mr. Trump’s Assault on Jeff Sessions.
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