The first is whether Trump can even pick an acting AG. As you may recall from David Shulkin’s exit as veterans affairs secretary, there is an open question as to whether the Federal Vacancies Reform Act allows a president to temporarily replace a Cabinet official he has fired — as opposed to one who has resigned. If Sessions forces Trump to fire him, there could be a legal battle over Trump’s authority to pick a temporary replacement who would outrank Rosenstein. Otherwise, Rosenstein would effectively take over. So there’s no guarantee of success for Trump there.
If Trump was able to pick a temporary replacement, it couldn’t be just anybody; it would have to be someone who has already been confirmed by the Senate or (less likely) a Justice Department employee with a high enough rank. The former would seem to afford more of a chance of inserting a loyalist.
.. “Whomever Trump appoints as a so-called acting AG in the short term will probably have greater practical significance than whom he nominates for Senate confirmation,” Lederman said.
That’s in part because it would be the person who could take over immediately, and in part because it would be someone who wouldn’t be subject to political maneuvering. The full-time replacement, after all, needs to be confirmed.
.. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), for instance, has said, “I find it really difficult to envision any circumstance where I would vote to confirm a successor to Jeff Sessions if he is fired because he is executing his job rather than choosing to act like a partisan hack.” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has said she doesn’t think a new AG will even be confirmed if Trump fires Sessions.
.. Another interesting subplot is whether the new attorney general or acting attorney general might also insert themselves in the Cohen probe, in which the former Trump attorney has just implicated the president in campaign-finance violations over hush-money payments. But SDNY has historically been very independent of the main Justice Department, and that would lead an internal clash, according to experts.
.. Ultimately, as with so many other things, this boils down to how much Republicans are willing to put up with from Trump — and whether they feel they can stop him. Also, as with so many other things, it will probably take only one or two of them to actually stand in his way.
.. Most times, they haven’t been prepared to actually fight him, or they’ve fought him only partially, succumbing to the politics of the day in the GOP. This situation could be different for a whole host of reasons, but as Graham demonstrated, we also haven’t seen anyone draw a true line in the sand and stick to it yet.