This is a story that will have a happy ending, no matter what happens. And it will have an unhappy ending, no matter what happens. It’s the tale of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who is currently twisting slowly in the wind, to use the cliche from the Watergate glossary. This time, his torturer isn’t Richard Nixon, but a man who makes us look back fondly on President Nixon, President Donald Trump. Trump is obviously no match for Nixon in the smarts department, but he more than surpasses Nixon’s crippling narcissism and his vindictiveness.
It’s so extreme that he’s even generated sympathy for Sessions on the left. Remember that Sessions is a right-wing extremist, who relishes his power to take away civil rights. You name it, whatever the issue — immigration, incarceration, defendant rights, marijuana — he wants to return to the harsh past. One would think he’d be the president’s kinda guy, and he was, ever since he became the first sitting U.S. senator to endorse Trump and vigorously campaigned for him. His prize was the Justice Department. These days, however, their bromance has deteriorated into Donald Trump at his ugliest, which is really saying something. Of late, Trump is hurling humiliating insults at Sessions every chance he gets. The A.G. is definitely on the POTUS Snit List.
Why is the president having such Session temper sessions? He’s quite open about it. Soon after Sen. Jeff Sessions became attorney general, he had to recuse himself from heading the federal investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Vladimir Putin’s government to steal the American election. It’s not that Sessions was all that honorable. He’d been caught lying to the Senate in an effort to conceal contacts he’d had with the Russians on the campaign’s behalf. The obvious conflict of interest left him little choice but to remove himself. That led, as we know, to the appointment of a special counsel, the relentless straight arrow Bob Mueller.
From the get-go, Trump has had spasms of anger at the Russia accusations and all the “Fake News” attention paid to it. He views it as questioning the very legitimacy of his election, which, by the way, it does. Now the noose is tightening, and this is not fake noose (sorry). The squeeze is choking his campaign associates and also family members; among those implicated are his son Don Junior and Jared Kushner, son-in-law and operator of the White House. Suddenly, Trump has decided it’s all Jeff Sessions’ fault, and he’s lashing out in true-to-form style. As so many associates have ruefully discovered, they can snap from good side to bad instantly. The Donald is really mean when he’s demeaning, a classic bully.
Except Jeff Sessions didn’t get where he was simply by being a right-wing hard-liner. That helped in his home state of Alabama, but like so many old-fashioned Southerners, he’s genteel in a syrupy way. His insincerity plays well here in Washington. He is the total opposite of Trump’s new favorite, Anthony Scaramucci, who personifies New York City crude. He stabs in the front. Not Sessions, who is ever so polite as he sticks the blade in. It’s the Washington way. So, he’s a member of the club. Supporters are oozing out of the woodwork, protesting that if Attorney General Sessions were to be fired or be driven out, that would really be an attempt to remove special counsel Mueller. That, warn the president’s advisers, would be a political catastrophe.
So that’s the Jeff Sessions story. The final chapter has yet to be written. He’s made it clear that he ain’t going, even though he has the victim role down pat, calling the Trumpster attacks “hurtful.” Among the GOP senators who have most vigorously defended him is Lindsey Graham, who told reporters that “holy hell” would break loose if Sessions is fired. And if Trump got rid of Mueller, that, said Graham, would be “the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency.” You can decide whether that’s a happy ending.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.