Many Republicans on Capitol Hill are praying President Trump doesn’t brashly fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions or special counsel Robert Mueller, who’s heading up the Trump campaign-Russia investigation.
The House is set to leave Washington Friday for a month-long August recess, while the Senate is slated to take off two weeks later. There’s fear that while the nation’s lawmakers are away, the president will do more than mess around on Twitter: They’re worried he may take advantage of their absence to reshuffle the decks at the Justice Department in an attempt to kill the Russia probe that has enveloped his presidency from day one.
The president’s repeated interviews and continued, petty tweets lambasting the attorney general for recusing himself from the Russia investigation have angered Democrats – including many who despise Sessions – but especially Sessions’ former Republican Senate colleagues who say he did the right thing.
“Under the guidelines, the attorney general really had no other choice” than to recuse, Republican Sen. Susan Collins recently told reporters. “His job as chief law enforcement officer of the country is to abide by the guidelines of the Department of Justice when it comes to cases where he may have a real or perceived conflict of interest, and that’s what the attorney general did.”
If the president did fire Sessions – which would be legal, but would strongly suggest the president is trying to bury the investigation – the Senate would have to confirm whoever the president picks to replace him. Democrats would cry bloody murder, fearing the president would only tap a loyalist who would try to end the Russia probe altogether.
Democrats opposed Sessions’ nomination, citing his history of racism and how he lied under oath, and arguing that he’s out of touch for trying to revive the tough-on-crime stance that has American’s prisons bursting at the seams and his desire to crack down on marijuana business owners. But now some prominent Democrats are defending him against Trump’s attacks.
“All Americans should be wondering: Why is the president publicly – publicly – demeaning and humiliating such a close friend and supporter, a member of his own cabinet? They should wonder if the president is trying to pry open the office of attorney general to appoint someone during the August recess who will fire special counsel Mueller and shut down the Russia investigation,” Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a Senate floor speech this week. “Let me say, if such a situation arises, Democrats would use every tool in our toolbox to stymie such a recess appointment.”
But even for most Republicans, there doesn’t seem to be any appetite to approve a new attorney general. The chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley, told rreporters he’s got enough on his plate with the plethora of judicial nominations before his committee and that he has no plans to hold hearings this fall on a new AG. He said Sessions has his full support and that it’s odd the president is tormenting one of his closest ideological allies in his cabinet.
“I’ve been very clear … that Sessions is probably the one person in the cabinet who is doing more of the president’s agenda than anyone else, and one of the big things that the president wants to accomplish is getting strict constructionists on the courts in the United States – and I don’t need to spend any more time doing nominations,” a gruff Grassley said.
While the president tweets, Republicans on Capitol Hill usually send out gentle nudges to try to keep him in line with his own agenda. But they’re becoming blunt as they recognize the immediate political consequences that would likely overwhelm this sporadic freshman president.
“Well it’s the president’s prerogative, but he is then going to jeopardize, potentially, his ability to get anything else done here,” the Senate’s number-two Republican, John Cornyn, told reporters. “I don’t think that should be his desire or preference.”
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham is going a step further than his colleagues. He said there will be “holy hell to pay” if Trump cans Sessions. He’s preparing legislation that he plans to introduce next week to protect Mueller from being fired by the very president he’s investigating, unless there’s a judicial review that finds good cause.
“Any effort to go after Mueller could be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency, unless Mueller did something wrong,” Sen. Lindsey Graham told reporters on Capitol Hill. “This is not draining the swamp. What he’s interjecting is turning democracy upside down.”