Trump attacks Sessions, but real target is Mueller
WASHINGTON — American humorist Will Rogers, who said “I never met a man I didn’t like,” built his legendary career on telling jokes about Congress.
In that humble, “aw shucks” way of his, he said his jokes weren’t meant to hurt anybody. But with Congress, “every time they make a joke, it’s a law, and every time they make a law, it’s a joke.”
President Trump attempted to make a joke Monday at the National Scout Jamboree, at the expense of his Health and Human Services Secretary, Tom Price, about what would happen to Price if he didn’t corral the votes needed to repeal and replace Obamacare.
Pointing to Price, a former six-term congressman from Georgia, whom he put in charge of selling the GOP reform bill, Trump said, “By the way, are you going to get the votes? You better get the votes. Otherwise, I’ll say, ‘Tom, you’re fired.’”
Firing some of the top people in his administration has been in the forefront of Trump’s mind almost from the time he was sworn into office.
He was forced to get rid of his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, after it was learned that he’d discussed U.S. sanctions with the Russian ambassador to Washington and lied that he’d never had any contacts with the Moscow envoy.
He fired FBI Director James Comey, who was conducting a sweeping investigation into Russian contacts with many of Trump’s aides and advisers during the 2016 campaign.
His press secretary, Sean Spicer, then resigned abruptly after the hiring of Wall Street financier Anthony Scaramucci as White House communications director. Scaramucci is said to be evaluating scores of other White House aides for removal and replacement.
But now Trump wants to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions also had several discussions with the Russian ambassador last year, and subsequently recused himself from any and all decisions dealing with Russian meddling and cybersecurity skullduggery in the election. That meant that the responsibility to fill Comey’s vacancy fell to Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein. Rosenstein appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller III as special counsel, with sweeping powers to dig into every aspect of the case, including whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Moscow on ways to influence the outcome of the election.
In recent weeks, the president has lobbed a volley of tweets expressing his deep disappointment with Sessions, saying that if he’d known the former senator would recuse himself from the investigation, he wouldn’t have chosen him to run the Justice Department.
In another tweet on Monday, Trump called Sessions, who was one of his earliest high-profile supporters in the 2016 campaign, “our beleaguered A.G.,” “VERY weak,” demanding to know why he was not “looking into Crooked Hillary’s crimes and Russia relations.”
In yet another battery of tweets this week, Trump wrote: “Why didn’t A.G. Sessions replace Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, a Comey friend who was in charge of Clinton investigation but got big dollars ($700,000) for his wife’s political run from Hillary Clinton and her representatives. Drain the Swamp!”
That begs the question of why the president doesn’t just replace McCabe himself.
Trump’s escalating pressure on Sessions to resign has been relentless. So far, Sessions has refused to do so, effectively daring his boss to fire him, which would ignite a political firestorm — especially in Congress, where Sessions is widely respected on both sides of the aisle.
“I don’t think it helps to throw your own people under the bus,” said GOP Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma.
“Jeff Sessions is a man of integrity, loyalty and extraordinary character,” says Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama.
But Trump’s chief target is Mueller. His plan is to get rid of Sessions and then install an acting attorney general in a recess appointment during Congress’s monthlong August vacation — someone who would fire Mueller in an attempt to end, or at least curtail, the investigation.
This would allow Trump’s appointee to avoid the Senate confirmation process and serve in that post through the end of next year.
All of this raises deeper questions about the stability of Trump’s government.
Nearly six months into his presidency, he is still in the midst of rearranging the deck chairs in his administration, with scores of key administrative posts remaining unfilled.
Donald Lambro has been covering Washington politics for more than 50 years as a reporter, editor and commentator.