Just when you think it’s safe to talk about health care, Donald Trump offers up a more salacious topic. In an interview with The New York Times on Wednesday, the president criticized Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to step aside from the Russia investigation, saying that "if he was going to recuse himself he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else."
This unprovoked attack on Sessions constitutes a vote of no confidence in this top cabinet official. And it also offers us yet another window into Trump’s brain, demonstrating that (1) he harbors resentment and holds grudges, (2) he is obsessed with the Russia story, (3) he simply refuses to stay on message (and away from Russia), (4) he loves drama and controversy, and (5) he is more than willing to attack a fellow traveler—even one who has a loyal constituency and who can exact revenge.
The fact that the president also entertained the idea of firing special prosecutor Robert Mueller (if his investigation takes him outside the scope of Russia—which it has), coupled with his criticism of Sessions, reinforces the notion that Trump believes everyone works for him—not for the American public to support and defend the Constitution—but for him. What else would a guy who has always been the boss assume?
To be sure, these emotions are natural. Past presidents might have privately criticized Sessions’ decision to recuse himself. In a moment of anger, they also might have blurted out something unpolitic. In President Trump’s world, however, anger is not a prerequisite for action. During a segment with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Wednesday night, Maggie Haberman, one of The New York Times reporters who landed the interview with Trump, noted that Trump seemed affable. Just as Trump would lie when the truth would suffice, he will resort to theatrics when being boring would suffice.
Trump doesn’t need a catalyst to engage in intimidation or humiliation. Consider the White House luncheon with Republican senators that took place immediately before this interview, where Trump (in a very joking and shticky way) attempted to bully Senator Dean Heller into switching his position on the attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare,
By attacking Sessions, Trump also shows that his brand of loyalty is a one-way street. Sessions was instrumental in helping Trump win the Republican nomination in 2016. The Alabama senator might have (should have?) backed Ted Cruz, but took a big risk by backing the real-estate mogul. Further, Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation was prudent and correct.
Leaders, it is often said, should praise in public and criticize in private. It appears that Trump didn’t attend that Dale Carnegie seminar.
On principle, Jeff Sessions should gather what is left of his dignity and resign. This would teach Trump that sometimes he goes too far. Trump is used to people bending to his will. If Sessions walks away, it would be the first time in a long time that Trump would have to face consequences for his actions. It would also be a symbolic and heroic act of a man who is willing to walk away from power.
But he won’t.
Sessions is happy with the appropriateness of his employment, and who could blame him? He finally landed his dream job. He gets to ratchet up a failed war on drugs—and seize other people’s property via civil forfeiture.
He waited his whole life for this job!