Stand by Your Man

Immigration Hardliners to Donald Trump: Don’t Mess With Jeff Sessions

Donald Trump isn’t the only one in his administration with a loyal following.

Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ standing could not be more precarious. On Wednesday evening, President Donald Trump laid bare the frustrations he’s had over Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from an investigation into Trump’s potential ties to Russia, sparking chatter that the AG’s tenure could soon end.

But amidst that talk, some Sessions allies want him to make a bold play in the opposite direction.

“I think he should reevaluate his recusals,” Tom Fitton, who heads Judicial Watch—the conservative watchdog group that played a key role in forcing the release of Hillary Clinton’s emails—told The Daily Beast. “If Mueller is doing everything he’s being reported as doing, that’s beyond what anyone signed up for in terms of the scope of Sessions’ recusal.”

The president told The New York Times on Wednesday that he wouldn’t have made Sessions attorney general if he had known he would recuse himself. Fitton said Sessions could resolve all of this by reversing his recusal.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on whether Sessions is currently considering this.

Fitton said recent reports on Mueller’s probe—including one this morning from Bloomberg saying he’s investigating the president’s business dealings—indicate the investigation has gone beyond the scope of Sessions’ initial recusal.

“It’s an ethics question, it’s not a legal question,” Fitton said. “Circumstances have changed given the nature of the investigation.”

Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor, told The Daily Beast he doesn’t believe there’s justification for a reversal of the recusal. But he said Sessions has the authority to make that decision, and the power to un-recuse himself.

“I’m sure he has the authority to do so,” Mariotti said. “But it’s hard for me to see what could have changed at this point that would warrant him revisiting that decision.”

Sessions, for his part, projected strength on Thursday, telling reporters he was confident he could still serve in the post.

“I have the honor of serving as attorney general. It’s something that goes beyond any thought I would have ever had for myself,” he said. “We love this job. We love this department, and I plan to continue to do so as long as, uh, that is appropriate.”

Sessions was the first senator to endorse Trump, and stood by him through the worst moments of his candidacy (including the Access Hollywood firestorm). He was unflinching in his refusal to criticize Trump. Unlike many members of the president’s cabinet, who were ambivalent or critical to him during the election, Sessions was by his side almost from Day One. So Trump’s decision to turn on him is a harsh blow.

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In the Times report, the president said Sessions was disloyal to him and dishonest to the Senate Judiciary Committee. He didn’t quite call for Sessions’ resignation, but said he regretted making him attorney general.

But Sessions’ top outside allies are deeply loyal to him, and made it clear they weren’t going anywhere—and neither should he. Rep. Steve King tweeted shortly after The New York Times posted the conversation with Trump:

Chris Crane, who heads the National ICE Council union, told The Daily Beast that the union strongly supports Sessions.

“We worked with Sessions for a great many years, and he’s been a great friend to law enforcement and our officers, and our mission as well, always,” said Crane, whose union represents the officers responsible for arresting and deporting undocumented immigrants. “There is no better friend to law enforcement than Jeff Sessions.

“I guess it troubles me to the extent that it mischaracterizes Jeff Sessions,” he said of the president’s criticism of Sessions to The New York Times. “We’re definitely not questioning that he’s the right man to head up the attorney general’s office.”

Advocates for tougher immigration enforcement have long been close to Sessions. Though many Capitol Hill Republicans—including Speaker Paul Ryan—have been enthusiastic proponents of higher legal immigration levels and comprehensive immigration reform, Sessions has long been an uncompromising opponent of anything that could be construed of amnesty. He is the strongest champion—and, at times, has been the lone champion—for immigration restrictionists, and has been so for years. He never gave up on them, and they say will never give up on him.

Rob Law, who heads government affairs for the Federation of American Immigration Reform, which advocates for less legal immigration and tougher enforcement of immigration laws, told The Daily Beast that Sessions’ supporters have been calling White House officials to ask the president to lay off the attorney general.

“Anyone that stands for the rule of law on immigration enforcement knows Jeff Sessions has been the intellectual leader on that topic for a long time,” he said. “And they know that without Sessions’ voice in the White House and this administration, then it’s going to look a whole lot different than what the American people voted for.”

And Mark Krikorian, who heads the immigration restrictionist group Center for Immigration Studies, said Trump’s criticism of Sessions could hurt him with his base.

“The president’s criticism of him potentially undermines support for the White House,” Krikorian said. “One interview with The New York Times isn’t going to change anything, but if there’s more, if Trump really does become confrontational in his opposition to Sessions, a lot of people are going to be siding with Sessions instead of Trump.”