{{show_title_date || "Trump threatens independence of Justice Department with firing, 1/30/17, 9:43 PM ET"}}

Jeff Sessions’ independence as AG is hard to even imagine

When Donald Trump fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates this week, it was a timely reminder about the importance of an independent voice at the Justice Department. In fact, it immediately brought to mind an amazing exchange between Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Yates at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing from March 2015

“Do you think the attorney general has a responsibility to say no to the president if he asks for something that’s improper?” the far-right senator asked. “Senator, I believe the attorney general or the deputy attorney general has an obligation to follow the law and the Constitution, and to give their independent legal advice to the president,” Yates replied.

The Rachel Maddow Show, 1/31/17, 12:55 AM ET

Yates in 2015 on saying no an unlawful order from the president

Rachel Maddow shares video from the March 2015 confirmation hearing of Sally Yates in which she is asked by Senator Jeff Sessions if she should say no to an unlawful order from the president, something Donald Trump fired her for doing tonight.
Rachel Maddow shares video from the March 2015 confirmation hearing of Sally Yates in which she is asked by Senator Jeff Sessions if she should say no to an unlawful order from the president, something Donald Trump fired her for doing tonight.
Two years later, we find ourselves at a very different place. Yates, acting on principle, was fired by a president who ordered her to enforce an executive order she considered improper. Sessions is that president’s nominee for attorney general.

NBC News’ First Read team added yesterday, “The question Democrats are asking today: Can someone like Sessions who played such a big role in Trump’s campaign – and whose top staff now work for Trump – show that same kind of independence at the Justice Department?”

In case the answer isn’t already clear, the Washington Post’s piece this week on Sessions’ influence provided some useful context:
In jagged black strokes, President Trump’s signature was scribbled onto a catalogue of executive orders over the past 10 days that translated the hard-line promises of his campaign into the policies of his government.

The directives bore Trump’s name, but another man’s fingerprints were also on nearly all of them: Jeff Sessions. […]

From immigration and health care to national security and trade, Sessions is the intellectual godfather of the president’s policies. His reach extends throughout the White House, with his aides and allies accelerating the president’s most dramatic moves, including the ban on refugees and citizens from seven mostly Muslim nations that has triggered fear around the globe.
Note, for example, that Stephen Miller has become one of the most important players in Trump’s White House, helping write the president’s inaugural address and having a hand in shaping the nascent administration’s political direction. What’s less widely known is that Miller is a longtime confidant and aide to Jeff Sessions, who helped position Miller on Team Trump.

And the ties don’t end there. The Washington Post’s piece added:
The tactician turning Trump’s agenda into law is deputy chief of staff Rick Dearborn, Sessions’s longtime chief of staff in the Senate. The mastermind behind Trump’s incendiary brand of populism is chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, who, as chairman of the Breitbart website, promoted Sessions for years.

Then there is Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, who considers Sessions a savant and forged a bond with the senator while orchestrating Trump’s trip last summer to Mexico City and during the darkest days of the campaign.

In an email in response to a request from The Washington Post, Bannon described Sessions as “the clearinghouse for policy and philosophy” in Trump’s administration.
Ordinarily, when evaluating a prospective attorney general, senators may ask, “Are you prepared to be an independent voice or will you be subservient to the White House’s agenda?” In this case, however, it’s the wrong question – because Jeff Sessions is responsible for helping shape Trump’s agenda.

Stephen Bannon also told the Post, “Throughout the campaign, Sessions has been the fiercest, most dedicated, and most loyal promoter in Congress of Trump’s agenda, and has played a critical role as the clearinghouse for policy and philosophy to undergird the implementation of that agenda.”

Jeff Sessions’ nomination is controversial at face value, in light of his deeply controversial record on race, among other issues. But as the White House pursues a radical course on a variety of fronts, the idea of Sessions’ leading the Justice Department becomes even more scandalous – because it’s painfully obvious that it would be our new attorney general who’s helped set that course.