Trump Is Mulling Candidates Who Could Succeed Jeff Sessions

Potential candidates for attorney general include Alex Azar, Steven Bradbury and Bill Barr

Mr. Sessions isn’t currently planning to leave, but privately has said that he anticipates he may be asked to resign, according to people familiar with the matter. The attorney general, who was the first senator to endorse Mr. Trump during the presidential campaign, has told people the request may come on the president’s Twitter feed.

“This is actually the dumbest thing I’ve been asked to comment on in a while,” said Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Flores.

..Replacing Mr. Sessions would present legal and political quandaries for the president.

.. Mr. Trump must find a successor who could win Senate confirmation, a job that senators say is harder given the president’s public suggestions that he wants a political ally as attorney general.

.. Many GOP senators are advocating for Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) to succeed Mr. Sessions, especially after Mr. Graham’s vocal defense last week of now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

.. “As I think about people who could be confirmed to that position in the Senate, Lindsey Graham is at the top of my list,” said John Cornyn of Texas, the Senate’s second-ranking Republican. “In fact, I can’t think of anybody else right now who could get confirmed.”

.. Mr. Trump has spoken about the possibility of Mr. Graham as attorney general, but has told his team that he is not inclined to choose him, given their turbulent history, according to people familiar with the discussions.
.. Mr. Graham called Mr. Trump a “race-baiting, xenophobic religious bigot.” Mr. Trump said Mr. Graham was a “lightweight” and an “idiot,” and gave out Mr. Graham’s mobile number during a campaign rally.
.. Another purported candidate, Sessions chief of staff Matthew Whitaker, has allies in the White House but also detractors, according to people familiar with the matter. As a commentator on CNN, Mr. Whitaker expressed skepticism about the special counsel probe and urged limits on its scope, a position likely to raise objections from Democrats and some Republicans... That leaves, for now at least, the five individuals currently under discussion at the White House. Three of them—Messrs. Azar, Bradbury and Sullivan—are serving in Senate-confirmed positions. They would have to be reconfirmed to serve as attorney general, but may have an advantage from having already won Senate approval.

.. Mr. Azar took office in January as Mr. Trump’s second health and human services secretary. He served as general counsel in former President George W. Bush’s administration, then headed an affiliate of pharmaceutical maker Eli Lilly & Co. before returning to Washington.Mr. Azar isn’t interested in the top job at the Justice Department, said a person familiar with his thinking.

.. Mr. Bradbury was sworn in last November as the Transportation Department’s chief legal officer after a narrow confirmation vote. Two Republicans joined Democrats in opposing Mr. Bradbury’s nomination, citing his role in helping author memos in the Bush administration that provided legal grounds for harsh interrogation techniques that some consider torture.

Mr. Bradbury defended his role, saying it was a difficult issue that drew strong opinions from both sides.

Mr. Sullivan, who was confirmed in May 2017, has served previously in senior positions in the Justice, Defense and Commerce departments. Before assuming office, Mr. Sullivan was a partner at Mayer Brown LLP.

.. Ms. Brown, appointed to the bench in 2005 by President George W. Bush, stepped down last year. She was among the most conservative voices on the D.C. Circuit, which hears numerous cases related to the federal government.

The Undoing of Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin’s Friendship, and How It Changed Both of Their Countries

On June 15, 1998, however, Clinton calls Yeltsin specifically to discuss Kosovo. He makes it clear that nato is considering military action to stop Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević’s troops from terrorizing Kosovo.

.. Serbia is Russia’s traditional ally, and American military intervention will show that Moscow is helpless either to protect or influence it. It will serve as proof that Russia has lost its superpower status.

.. Yeltsin tells Clinton that he had invited Milošević to Moscow so that he can talk sense into him. At the same time, he is trying to talk sense into the American President. “Military action by nato is unacceptable,” he says.

.. Clinton tells Yeltsin that Milošević has broken his promise to Yeltsin: Serbian troops, Clinton says, have displaced two hundred thousand civilians.

.. Clinton talks about needing to take action before the harsh winter threatens displaced Kosovars, especially the estimated ten thousand who are hiding in the mountains. Yeltsin agrees.

.. Clinton calls Yeltsin to tell him that he, the leaders of France, the United Kingdom, Germany, “and the rest of the Europeans” have concluded that they must launch air strikes against Milošević. “As you know, Milošević has stonewalled your negotiator and Dick Holbrooke”—the American negotiator—“and he has continued to move his forces into Kosovo and to evacuate villages,”

.. Clinton begs Yeltsin not to allow Milošević to destroy their relationship—in his framing, it is all the Serb’s fault.

.. Yeltsin just gets sadder. “Our people will certainly from now have a bad attitude with regard to America and with nato,” he says. “I remember how difficult it was for me to try and turn the heads of our people, the heads of the politicians towards the West, towards the United States, but I succeeded in doing that, and now to lose all that. Well, since I failed to convince the President, that means there in store for us a very difficult, difficult road of contacts, if they prove to be possible. Goodbye.”

.. Nineteen years later, it seems clear that one President was being more honest than the other. Contrary to Clinton’s assertion, he and the other nato leaders certainly had a choice in the situation, and the choice they made—to launch a military offensive without the sanction of the United Nations—changed the way that the United States wields force. By bypassing the Security Council and establishing the United States as the sole arbiter of good and evil, it paved the way for the war in Iraq, among other things.

.. It also changed Russia. What was seen as a unilateral American decision to start bombing a longtime Russian ally emboldened the nationalist opposition and tapped into a deep inferiority complex. Sensitive to these sentiments, Yeltsin responded that May by celebrating Victory Day with a military parade in Red Square, the first in eight years. In fact, military parades took place all over the country that year, and have been repeated every year since. What was even more frightening were a series of nongovernmental Victory Day parades by ultranationalists. That these public displays, some of which featured the swastika, were tolerated, and in such close proximity to celebrations of the country’s most hallowed holiday, suggested that xenophobia had acquired new power in Russia. Later that year, Yeltsin anointed Vladimir Putin his successor and signed off on a renewed war in Chechnya. This offensive, designed to shore up support for the country’s hand-picked new leader, was both inspired and enabled by Kosovo. It was a dare to the United States, an assertion that Russia will do what it wants in its own Muslim autonomy.

We will never know whether Russian politics would have developed differently if not for the U.S. military intervention in Kosovo. And, of course, the new war in Chechnya and the emergence of Putin himself were symptoms of deeper problems, including Russia’s failure to reinvent itself as a post-Soviet, post-imperial state. For this, Yeltsin himself bears most of the responsibility. Still, these transcripts tell a tragic story of much more than a friendship gone sour.

How to Destroy Democracy, the Trump-Putin Way

All around the world, strongmen are seizing power and subverting liberal norms.

fascism came out of particular historical circumstances that do not obtain today—

  • a devastating world war,
  • drastic economic upheaval, the
  • fear of Bolshevism.

.. When Naomi Wolf and others insisted that George W. Bush was taking us down the path of 1930s Germany, I thought they were being histrionic. The essence of fascism after all was the obliteration of democracy. Did anyone seriously believe that Bush would cancel elections and refuse to exit the White House?

.. So maybe fascism isn’t the right term for where we are heading. Fascism, after all, was all about big government—grandiose public works, jobs jobs jobs, state benefits of all kinds, government control of every area of life. It wasn’t just about looting the state on behalf of yourself and your cronies, although there was plenty of that too. Seeing Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump at the press conference following their private meeting in Helsinki, though, I think maybe I’ve been a bit pedantic. Watching those two thuggish, immensely wealthy, corrupt bullies, I felt as if I was glimpsing a new world order—not even at its birth but already in its toddler phase. The two men are different versions of an increasingly common type of leader:

  • elected strongmen ‘who exploit weak spots in procedural democracy to come to power, and
  • once ensconced do everything they can to weaken democracy further,
  • while inflaming powerful popular currents of
    • authoritarianism,
    • racism,
    • nationalism,
    • reactionary religion,
    • misogyny,
    • homophobia, and
    • resentments of all kinds.

.. At the press conference Putin said that associates of the billionaire businessman Bill Browder gave Hillary Clinton’s campaign $400 million, a claim Politifact rates “pants on fire” and about which The New York Times’ Kenneth Vogel tweeted, “it was so completely without evidence that there were no pants to light on fire, so I hereby deem it ‘WITHOUT PANTS.’”

.. A Freudian might say that his obsession with the imaginary sins of Clinton suggests he’s hiding something. Why else, almost two years later, is he still trying to prove he deserved to win? At no point in the press conference did he say or do anything incompatible with the popular theory that he is Putin’s tool and fool.

.. These pantsless overlords are not alone. All over the world, antidemocratic forces are winning elections—sometimes fairly, sometimes not—and then using their power to subvert democratic procedures.

There’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey—remember how when he first took office, back in 2014, he was seen as a harmless moderate, his Justice and Development Party the Muslim equivalent of Germany’s Christian Democrats? Now he’s shackling the press, imprisoning his opponents, trashing the universities, and trying to take away women’s rights and push them into having at least three, and possibly even five, kids because there just aren’t enough Turks.

.. Then there’s Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, who coined the term “illiberal democracy” to describe these elected authoritarian regimes, now busily shaping the government to his own xenophobic ends, and

.. Poland’s Andrzej Duda, doing much the same—packing the courts, banning abortion, promoting the interests of the Catholic church.

Before World War II Poland was a multiethnic country, with large minorities of Jews, Roma, Ukrainians, and other peoples. Now it boasts of its (fictional) ethnic purity and, like Hungary and the Czech Republic, bars the door to Muslim refugees in the name of Christian nationalism.

One could mention

  • Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte,
  • Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi,
  • Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, and
  • India’s Narendra Modi as well.

Pushed by anti-immigrant feeling, which is promoted by

  • unemployment and
  • austerity,

right-wing “populist” parties are surging in

  • Italy,
  • Greece,
  • the Netherlands,
  • France,
  • Germany,
  • Austria, and even
  • Sweden and
  • Denmark.

And don’t forget Brexit—boosted by pie-in-the-sky lies about the bounty that would flow from leaving the European Union but emotionally fueled by racism, nativism, and sheer stupidity.

.. At home, Donald Trump energizes similarly antidemocratic and nativist forces. Last year, outright neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville, and Trump called them “very fine people.” This year, Nazis and Holocaust deniers are running in elections as Republicans, and far-right misogynist hate groups like the Proud Boys are meeting in ordinary bars and cafés.

.. The worst of it is that once the leaders get into power, they create their own reality, just as Karl Rove said they would:

  • They control the media,
  • pack the courts
  • .. lay waste to regulatory agencies,
  • “reform” education,
  • abolish long-standing precedents, and
  • use outright cruelty—of which the family separations on the border are just one example—to create fear.

While everybody was fixated on the spectacle in Helsinki, Trump’s IRS announced new rules that let dark-money groups like the National Rifle Association and the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity keep their donors secret. 

.. American democracy might not be in its death throes yet, but every week brings a thousand paper cuts.

.. There’s nothing inevitable about liberal democracy, religious pluralism, acceptance of ethnic diversity, gender and racial equality, and the other elements of what we think of as contemporary progress.

.. He has consolidated a bloc of voters united in their grievances and their fantasies of redress. The

  • fundamentalist stay-home moms, the
  • MAGA-hat wearing toughs, the
  • Fox-addicted retirees, the
  • hedge-fund multimillionaires and the
  • gun nuts have found one another.

.. Why would they retreat and go their separate ways just because they lost an election or even two? Around the world it may be the same story: Democracy is easy to destroy and hard to repair, even if people want to do so, and it’s not so clear that enough of them do.

MS-13 Isn’t the Problem Trump Says It Is

In reality, MS-13 members make up a fraction of Border Patrol arrests and a small part of gang activity in the United States. While the group has committed brutal murders on Long Island, there is no evidence that the gang is increasingly sending members into the country.

..  Rather than a nationwide threat, the group is being used as a political tool used to “turbocharge the xenophobia that underlies the debate around immigration

.. MS-13 members, some 10,000 in number, make up less than 1 percent of the approximately 1.4 million gang members in the United States, according to F.B.I. estimates. Other gangs are several times larger.

.. MS-13’s numbers are stagnant, too. While precise size estimates are hard to come by, authorities have used the same figure of about 10,000 members for over a decade. (The F.B.I. estimates the gang has between 30,000 and 50,000 members around the world.)
.. Far from menacing cities across the country, as Mr. Trump has suggested, the gang’s presence is concentrated in Long Island, Los Angeles and the region outside Washington.
.. In addition, most MS-13 recruits are not migrants but teenagers who live in the United States and are alienated from their communities
.. In those areas, the gang may be the only group that provides a sense of identity
.. Policymakers in Central America have argued deporting criminals from the United States has exacerbated gang problems abroad, ultimately worsening crime in the United States.
.. While MS-13 began in the 1980s as a small and unorganized street gang in Los Angeles, some evidence suggests the group expanded in Central America after the United States began deporting illegal immigrants — many with criminal backgrounds — with greater intensity in 1996. Experts have described this process as “exporting” American-style gang culture to Central America.

.. Poor prison conditions in those countries may have also helped MS-13 become larger and better organized
.. By 2008, law enforcement found evidence that MS-13 leaders in El Salvadoran prisons were ordering assassinations in Washington while making plans to unify gang groups in the United States.

MS-13 was a gang fueled by deportation, not immigration,” Dr. Leap said.

.. Trump uses MS-13 as a political tool

At a rally last month in Nashville, Mr. Trump once again linked MS-13 to his political opponents. He has said on Twitter that Democrats are “weak on crime” along the border and are “protecting MS-13 thugs.”

.. Mike Huckabee, tweeted an incendiary picture of MS-13 members, likening them to the campaign staff for Representative Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader.
.. MS-13 has entered the national conversation because of Mr. Trump’s anti-immigration agenda, not because it has become more threatening, Dr. Cruz said. Because of the gang’s association with Central American countries that Mr. Trump dislikes, “it’s the perfect group for him to blame,” he added.