Trump Fired His Most Effective Lieutenant

The outgoing attorney general did more to enact the president’s priorities than any other member of the Cabinet, but that didn’t save him from White House hostility.

The paradox of Jeff Sessions’s tenure as attorney general is that no member of the Trump administration was so beleaguered and disparaged by President Trump, but no member got as much done.

Even as he endured persistent verbal abuse from the president, Sessions steamed forward on a range of conservative social-policy priorities, aggressively reorienting the Justice Department’s stances on immigration, civil rights, and criminal justice, among other issues. In an administration plagued by incompetent and ineffective figures, Sessions was a paragon of efficacy—a distinction that horrified his many opponents, but did nothing to win Trump’s trust or affection.
  • When it came time for Trump to pull the plug on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, as he had promised he would during the 2016 campaign, the president got cold feet, but Sessions was happy to be the public face of the withdrawal. It was Sessions who
  • tried to follow through (unsuccessfully) on Trump’s threat to cut off funding to sanctuary cities. It was Sessions who issued new guidance to immigration judges. And, most prominent, it was Sessions who
  • went to the border to announce the Trump administration’s decision to separate migrant children from their parents.
Sessions openly said the plan to split families up was intended to deter migrants, even as other administration officials said otherwise. The policy was met with widespread and appropriate horror, and Trump eventually pulled back—but he had backed the plan before that, and Sessions had followed through.
.. But these weren’t just Sessions’s pet issues. They were Trump’s as well. Hardline immigration policies, giving police free rein, fighting phantom voter fraud—these were all signature Trump projects. Sessions had been the first U.S. senator to endorse Trump, and Trump took from him a range of policy concepts—especially on immigration—as well as a top adviser, Stephen Miller.
But Sessions’s stewardship of those projects didn’t return him to favor with Trump, who, according to Bob Woodward’s book Fear, called Sessions “mentally retarded” and a “dumb Southerner.”
.. When McGahn’s departure was announced in August, I wrote that he’d been the most effective person in the West Wing, through his stewardship of judicial appointments. But Trump disliked and distrusted McGahn, and seemed eager to have him gone.
.. Of course, the same issue poisoned both Sessions’s and McGahn’s relationships with Trump: the Russia investigation, and especially Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s takeover of it.
.. Trump was angry that neither man had protected him. He raged at Sessions’s lack of “loyalty” and complained that Attorney General Eric Holder had “totally protected” Barack Obama. (What he meant by that is unclear.) He twice instructed McGahn to fire Mueller, and McGahn twice refused, once threatening to resign.
.. Attorney General Matthew Whitaker assumes control of Mueller’s probe. Whitaker was outspokenly critical of the special counsel’s inquiry before joining the administration, so Trump may now have a leader of the Justice Department who is more pliable on the Mueller front. But the president is unlikely to find an attorney general who will do as much to move his priorities forward as Sessions did—and the new attorney general will come into the job knowing that loyalty and efficacy aren’t enough to garner favor with Trump.

Giuliani’s Bark Won’t Put Off the Mueller Investigation

Although the former mayor says that he is acting as Donald Trump’s outside legal counsel, it’s increasingly clear that his main role is that of attack dog. His principal assignment: to bloody Mueller, and, if possible, disable him.

.. During his sitdown with Ingraham, Giuliani extended this argument, arguing that for “the same reason they can’t indict him, they can’t issue a subpoena to him.”

These statements raise an obvious question: If Mueller really has nothing on Trump, and if, in any case, he is barred from bringing an indictment or issuing a Presidential subpoena, why are the President and his attorneys so concerned about the investigation?

.. As the Republican congressman Trey Gowdy remarked to Trump’s former lead attorney, John Dowd, after he called on Mueller to wrap it up, “If you have an innocent client … act like it.”

the special counsel’s team has proceeded methodically for the past twelve months on at least five distinct but connected fronts:

  1. Russian trolling and voter-targeting on social-media platforms;
  2. the hacking and release of Democratic e-mails;
  3. direct contacts between members of the Trump campaign and individuals connected to the Russian government;
  4. Trump’s business dealings with people and entities connected to Russia; and
  5. possible obstruction of justice.

.. Strictly speaking, that is a separate probe. But nobody on Trump’s team doubts that if and when Cohen decides to coöperate with the prosecutors, Mueller’s investigators will be all ears.

.. as early as last fall, Mueller’s team demanded information from some of the companies that hired the Trump fixer as a consultant after the election. This suggests that the investigation is running many months ahead of the media, and also, perhaps, ahead of the White House’s knowledge of its activities.

.. we know, courtesy of a leak to the Times by Trump’s lawyers, is that Mueller wants to pose at least forty-nine questions to the President himself. Despite Trump’s constant refrain that there was no collusion with Russia, many of these questions also relate directly to what happened before the 2016 election.

.. “During the campaign, what did you know about Russian hacking, use of social media, or other acts aimed at the campaign?” and

“What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign?”

.. if Mueller found evidence of a serious crime involving the President, and he believed it should be prosecuted in an ordinary court of law, he could go to Rosenstein, who in this case would be the acting Attorney General—and the ultimate decision would fall on Rosenstein’s shoulders.

.. Most people in Washington don’t expect Mueller to bring criminal charges against Trump. If he doesn’t, and Trump doesn’t fire him before he completes his investigation, the key issue—whether or not to impeach Trump—may well be left to Congress. And since Congress operates in the court of public opinion, this would ultimately be a political decision.

That, of course, is another reason that Trump brought in Giuliani—to stick up for him and his family in public, even if that involves defending the indefensible

.. we can rest assured that they won’t be put off by Giuliani’s bluster.

Why I could no longer serve this president

I resigned because the traditional core values of the United States, as manifested in the president’s National Security Strategy and his foreign policies, have been warped and betrayed. I could no longer represent him personally and remain faithful to my beliefs about what makes America truly great.

.. These policies are purportedly being pursued to make good on nativist campaign rhetoric that resonated with many legitimately aggrieved Americans. But I know many of these voters. They are not “deplorables.” They deserve better. They deserve enlightened and informed debate about the true nature of the globalized economy, automation, and the need for education and reimagined job-skills programs to keep us competitive.

.. Instead, they are being offered the siren song of populist scapegoating of immigrants, jingoistic chest-beating and a schoolyard bully’s attitude that taunts: “I win, you lose.”
.. Moreover, policy options based on fear and hashtags will only offer us a false dichotomy.
.. immigration issue cannot be debated rationally when the president routinely encourages division and disparages today’s migrants with the same hateful language deployed a century ago to excoriate my Irish and Italian ancestors.
.. My goal is to create the conditions for respectful and nonconfrontational dialogue between supporters of the president’s immigration policy and the full panoply of migrants

Tom Cotton, David Perdue, and the Trap of Lying for Donald Trump

In denigrating anyone who called the President out for his slurs, Senators Cotton and Perdue (pictured here in August) show their willingness to humiliate themselves on his behalf.

.. According to the Post, “Three White House officials said Perdue and Cotton told the White House that they heard ‘shithouse’ rather than ‘shithole,’ allowing them to deny the President’s comments on television over the weekend.” Is that how people sleep at night in Trump’s Washington?

And they are poisonous.

.. It should be clear that the house/hole distinction, should it even have existed, would not count as “allowing” Cotton and Perdue to deny the President’s remarks on any terms. But the ones on which they did so are particularly egregious, because they offered themselves as witnesses to other senators’ supposed dishonor.

.. Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, had confirmed the reported phrase “shithole countries” publicly; Senator Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, had backed up the press accounts more obliquely but unmistakably. Senator Tim Scott, his Republican colleague, who is African-American, told reporters that Graham had confirmed the essentials of the report to him; Graham didn’t dispute that. Graham had also publicly said that there was a racial aspect to the remarks, which he said he’d called the President on, saying, by his account, “America is an idea, not a race.”

.. Cotton, appearing on Sunday news programs, specifically disparaged Durbin’s credibility. “I didn’t hear it, and I was sitting no further away from Donald Trump than Dick Durbin was,”

.. Cotton told John Dickerson on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “And I know, and I know what Dick Durbin has said about the President’s repeated statements is incorrect.” He also said that Durbin had a history of dishonesty.

.. When Dickerson asked Cotton about the thrust of the remarks, as opposed to the President’s word choice, Cotton said, “I did not hear derogatory comments about individuals or persons.” Perhaps there was another rationalization in there: he was being derogatory about whole populations, not individuals!

.. in the next sentence, Dickerson made the terms of Cotton’s lies clear when he asked, “So the sentiment is totally phony that is attributed to him?”—meaning to the President. Cotton answered, “Yes.”

.. At the same time, Perdue was busy on ABC’s “This Week,” telling George Stephanopoulos, in even more categorical terms, that Durbin was guilty of a “gross misrepresentation” of Trump’s remarks, saying that such “language” was simply not used.

.. When Stephanopoulos noted that there were multiple sources who said otherwise—indeed, the President himself reportedly called friends to brag about what he had said

..  Congressmen Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California, who is the House Majority Leader and has not commented (but, as the Washington Post noted, stood quietly next to the President when he denied the reports on Sunday; Trump also called himself the “least racist person”

.. members of his Administration at first thought that the controversy could be settled in the shady realm of “do not recall,”

.. They were caught by surprise when he started tweeting about how the accounts of his language were outright false.

.. But perhaps he also listened to what the other Republicans were saying, and had an insight that they would, indeed, back him up. It was a bully’s triple play:

  1. first, he got to slur whole nations.
  2. Then he got his guys to gang up on anyone who called him out for it, which produced the final prize:
  3. the acknowledgement that the Republican lawmakers were his guys, subordinate and willing to humiliate themselves on his behalf.

.. What is notable is that, at first, Cotton and Perdue had tried, in a joint statement, to hedge by saying that they did “not recall the President saying these comments specifically.” But, as his lies escalated, so did theirs, to the point where they were backing up the idea that the media was involved in a fake-news conspiracy.

.. But it is, apparently, hard to lie halfway for Trump; he won’t let you.

The Romney Disease

How does this happen? It happens because the Republicans with the solid family lives, sparkling résumés, unlined faces, and big white teeth think they are entitled to rule the rest of us in their own interests. They think their (real) virtues entitle them to ignore the priorities of the electorate. There will always be fools and con artists but, right now, the vices of the good men are killing us.

The Republicans have managed the unlikely feat of producing a tax-cut bill that has only 26 percent support. This is part of a pattern whereby the allegedly responsible, thoughtful, public-spirited Republican leaders, such as Paul Ryan, produce legislation that is somehow even less popular than our already very unpopular president.

.. But maybe they haven’t forgotten. Maybe the Republican leadership has changed.

.. But something has changed in recent years. One visible sign was the Wall Street Journal’s infamous “lucky duckies” editorial, which complained that lower-middle-class people (those lucky duckies) with little income-tax liability might get a cut to their payroll taxes, and that this cut would reduce the tax cuts that might otherwise have gone to the more productive and deserving high earners.

.. Edward Conard, like Mitt Romney a Bain Capital guy, might be called Mitt Romney’s id. He argues that a proposal to set the corporate tax rate at 22 percent rather than 20 percent in order to finance a tax credit that reduces the payroll-tax liability of mostly wage-earning parents would hurt the economy, because it would reduce economic growth and diminish “middle-class incomes in the long run.”

.. The congressional Republicans are having trouble selling tax cuts to the middle class, because the middle-class tax cuts are included only grudgingly as a sweetener for the business and high-earner tax cuts that are the real goal of the Republican congressional leadership.

.. The elite Republicans haven’t forgotten. They have changed.

The Republican Party of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan is no longer the party of Ronald Reagan and the middle-class tax revolts of the 1970s.

.. Why do Americans turn to elderly socialists like Bernie Sanders, or clownish (or worse) populists like Trump and Roy Moore? It is because the best of the Republicans are wedded to a politically self-destructive view of the world.

.. They seem to have the home life of the family man. They have the discipline and diligence of the organization kid. They have the looks of the pretty boy. Yet the public still rejects them, because the voters find their ideas even more unpleasant than Donald Trump’s odious personality.

.. When they think they can get away with it, they disparage the idea of tax cuts for the middle class (much less for wage-earning parents). They pretend that the taxes paid by wage-earners don’t even exist. They mouth the Reaganite lift-all-boats rhetoric, but they act on a get-those-lucky-duckies agenda. Reagan’s party is being infected with the Romney Disease.