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.

The Paradox of Mexico’s Mass Graves

Drug cartels are widely believed to be behind the mass grave. Most of the victims are yet to be identified. A mother living a few blocks from the field said she had no idea it was there. In April, residents filed a complaint that the smell of rotting corpses being unearthed was seeping into their homes.

.. I’ve covered Mexico’s violence since 2001, but I am still dumbstruck by the extent to which normal life seems to carry on next door to such terrors. A study released last month found that at least 1,400 bodies were dug up from mass graves across the country between 2009 and 2014. And those are just a fraction of the 176,000 murders that police have counted here over the last decade.

.. At the same time, Mexico has a trillion-dollar economy and is the eighth-most-visited tourist destination on the planet. The government denies there is an armed conflict going on.

.. Is it simply a horrendous crime problem, or is it an actual war?

.. whether people fleeing the violence can be classified as refugees.

.. the conflict is neither just crime nor civil war, but a new hybrid type of organized violence

..  When the size of the grave was revealed, the new state prosecutor, Jorge Winckler, told reporters: “It’s impossible that nobody knew what was going on here, with vehicles coming in and out. If that wasn’t with the complicity of authorities, I don’t know how it was done.”

.. The site was discovered not by the police but by mothers searching for their disappeared children.

.. One day, when a group of mothers were marching in protest, a car drew up and a mysterious man got out to give them a hand-drawn map showing where the mass grave was.

.. These cases illustrate key features of Mexico’s drug war. Most of its victims are not killed in battles — shootouts between armed groups, or clashes with the police and soldiers — but are dragged away by gunmen or are assassinated in hits.

.. Justice is rare. One study found that four out of five murders in Mexico go unpunished. Security forces do take on the cartels in parts of the country, but the police and officials are also caught working with the criminals, and even killing for them.

.. The cartels make billions smuggling heroin, cocaine and crystal meth to America, as well as from a portfolio of rackets from kidnapping to oil theft. That money is used to bribe police and politicians, who in turn help the cartels to eliminate anyone who stands in their way

.. The victims are not only rival cartel operatives but also include customs workers who won’t take bribes, inconvenient journalists and many who simply witnessed the wrong thing at the wrong time

.. The pattern of killing is perhaps most similar to that of the death squads of a dictatorship. And in Colinas de Santa Fe, children could play obliviously while at their doorstep was a mass grave akin to those left by the Islamic State.