In July 2017, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said that if President Trump were to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions there “will be holy hell to pay.” Sessions is “a rock solid conservative,” Graham said, and Trump’s efforts to “marginalize and humiliate” him are “not going over well in the Senate.” A lot can change in a year. On Thursday, Graham told reporters that the president is “entitled to an attorney general he has faith in,” and that he expects Trump to fire Sessions “sooner rather than later.” He didn’t seem too troubled by the prospect, either, only cautioning the president to wait until after the midterms to axe the man preventing Trump from laying waste to the Witch Hunt.
— Fox News (@FoxNews) August 23, 2018
The president’s frustrations with Sessions hinge on the attorney general’s decision to recuse himself from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s relationship with Russia. As the investigation has intensified, Trump has ramped up his campaign to “marginalize and humiliate” Sessions, ostensibly hoping that he will resign in shame. Most of the president’s attacks against Sessions have come via Twitter — reportedly a new thread of the special counsel’s investigation — but Trump recently aired his grievances to Ainsley Earhardt in an interview that aired Thursday morning on Fox News. “The Dems are very strong at the Justice Department,” Trump said. “I put in an attorney general that never took control of the Justice Department. Jeff Sessions never took control of the Justice Department.”
Sessions responded on Thursday with a statement defending himself and the law enforcement community, which the president has also attacked repeatedly as the special counsel’s investigation has intensified. “The actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations,” Sessions wrote.
Statement from the Attorney General pic.twitter.com/eMF0CPXLZZ
— Sarah Isgur Flores (@SarahFloresDOJ) August 23, 2018
If Sessions were to be fired, Trump would install a loyalist who would either fire Mueller outright or severely undermine his ability to conduct the inquiry. The Russia investigation is currently being overseen by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who assumed control after Sessions recused himself in March 2017 following the revelation that he met with Russia’s ambassador to the United States prior to the election. A new attorney general would outrank Rosenstein and preside over the investigation in accordance with the president’s wishes.
Graham’s decision to essentially endorse a dismissal of Sessions is alarming, as, among Senate Republicans, he has been one of the most consistent defenders of the Mueller investigation. During the same July 2017 interview in which he said there would be “holy hell to pay” if Sessions were to be fired, he announced that he was working on legislation to protect the special counsel. The bipartisan bill that would ultimately result from his efforts, titled the “Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act,” was introduced and approved this April. A month earlier Graham vowed to protect the special counsel. “I pledge to the American people, as a Republican, to make sure that Mr. Mueller can continue to do his job without any interference,” he said. Graham seemed to feel the same way as recently as Tuesday, when he responded to Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort’s busy days in court by issuing a statement noting that “it’s important to let this process continue without interference,” referencing the special counsel’s investigation.
By clearing the way for the president to fire Sessions after the midterms, however, Graham may have done more to jeopardize Mueller’s investigation than any of his colleagues in the Senate. Rolling Stone reached out to Graham’s office for a comment as to how he can endorse the dismissal of Sessions while still defending the special counsel’s investigation, but has yet to receive a response.