Ses­sions ouster a shock, but not a sur­prise

AS OTH­ERS SEE IT

Pawtucket Times - - OPINION -

This ap­pears in Thurs­day’s Wash­ing­ton Post:

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s Wed­nes­day fir­ing of At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions was not sur­pris­ing, but it should still be shock­ing. Ses­sions’ sin was not that he was in­suf­fi­ciently wed­ded to the pres­i­dent’s agenda; in­deed, the at­tor­ney gen­eral was per­haps the most ef­fec­tive mem­ber of the Cabi­net in ad­vanc­ing Trump­ist poli­cies. Rather, the pres­i­dent com­plained that Ses­sions failed to pro­tect him, as a hired lawyer pro­tects a pri­vate client, from le­git­i­mate law en­force­ment in­quiries.

Ses­sions’ per­for­mance as at­tor­ney gen­eral was far from praise­wor­thy. But at some cru­cial mo­ments, such as when he prop­erly re­cused him­self from the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion, he showed a fi­delity to the in­de­pen­dence and in­tegrity of the Jus­tice Depart­ment, and it was for that es­sen­tial loy­alty that the pres­i­dent could not tol­er­ate him.

The Jus­tice Depart­ment is now in peril. Trump has made clear he wants a lap­dog run­ning the na­tion’s law en­force­ment ap­pa­ra­tus. Some of the peo­ple pre­vi­ously men­tioned as pos­si­ble re­place­ments for Ses­sions – such as for­mer New York Mayor Rudy Gi­u­liani or for­mer En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency Ad­min­is­tra­tor Scott Pruitt –prac­ti­cally em­body craven­ness. Trump’s new act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral, Matthew Whi­taker, has ex­pressed hos­tile views about the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion run by Spe­cial Coun­sel Robert Mueller.

Th­ese facts are all the more chill­ing as the pres­i­dent threat­ens to in­ves­ti­gate House Democrats in re­tal­i­a­tion for any in­ves­ti­ga­tions of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion they might mount. Congress is sup­posed to con­duct over­sight. The Jus­tice Depart­ment is sup­posed to pros­e­cute crim­i­nals, not serve as a pri­vate pres­i­den­tial hit squad.

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