Rebuked by Trump, Sessions offers a stark contrast in leadership
“Sessions should have never recused himself,” said Trump in a ranging New York Times interview. “If he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else.”
In case you were confused, that’s the same “failing” New York Times President Trump has labeled as a “fake news joke.”
Yet the president elected to speak with reporters and directly undermine his attorney general. “How do you take a job and then recuse yourself?” Trump mused. “If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.’ It’s extremely unfair—and that’s a mild word—to the president.”
How does the attorney general accept a nomination and then recuse himself? If that’s anything more than a rhetorical question, there’s a clear answer.
Sessions recused himself because of a U.S. Justice Department regulation, 28 CFR 45.2, prohibiting Justice Department employees from participating in a “criminal investigation or prosecution if he has a personal or political relationship with…an elected official, a candidate (whether or not successful) for elective, public office, a political party, or a campaign organization.”
After consulting with “senior career Department officials,” Sessions determined he should recuse himself “from any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States.”
The Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct also bar Sessions from legal representation in a matter materially limited by his own interest. With respect to the presidential campaign, Sessions’ personal political engagement was both significant and widely known.
He didn’t recuse himself to spite the president. He wasn’t having a moment of political weakness. He did it because he knows impartiality of the rule of law is critical to the survival of our republic.
After clearly explaining his actions on multiple occasions, how did Sessions respond to his boss expressing regret for hiring him?
“We wholeheartedly join in the priorities of President Trump.”
Listening to the attorney general, you’d never suspect that the president of the United States had just thrown him under the bus. That’s what faithful public service sounds like. It isn’t sexy. It’s not reactionary. It’s not self-serving.
“We love this job. We love this department, and I plan to continue to do so as long as that is appropriate,” Sessions continued.
After that statement, most of the media tuned out, but there was more. Sessions asked the reporters to “focus now on the work of the individuals behind [him].” He wanted the media present “to celebrate and affirm the work that [his staff has] done so that we can learn from it and get even better in the future.”
I don’t care what you think about Jeff Sessions’ policies or politics. When the president critically undermined him, Sessions took the opportunity to highlight the success of his team. Sessions didn’t use the podium to complain about the unfairness of the situation; he spoke of advancing justice. That’s the grace and humility we should expect from our nation’s leaders. It’s a stark contrast from Trump’s treatment of Sessions.
Going forward, Sessions intends to continue enforcing the laws of the United States. He’s not interested in stirring up even more outrage toward the president. He’s not looking for a hot microphone to share his side of the story. If Trump fires him, don’t expect a tell-all interview or book.
Because Attorney General Sessions actually believes there are a few bedrock American ideals—like the impartial administration of justice—more important than him or whether he’s being treated fairly.
Image by Brad McPherson