Donald Trump is accustomed to a specific professional dynamic in which he’s the boss, he barks orders, and those orders are carried out. Those who fall short of the boss’ expectations are upbraided and replaced.
Trump, the nation’s first amateur president, may not fully appreciate how useless this approach is in national politics.
When Trump expected Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to shield him from inquiries related to the Russia scandal, and the GOP leader did not, the president “berated him in a phone call that quickly devolved into a profane shouting match.” Soon after, when Trump was disappointed after an August political rally, he “lashed out” at White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, who “later told other White House staff members that he had never been spoken to like that during 35 years of serving his country.”
And then there’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and a New York Times report published today on how Trump has treated the nation’s top law enforcement official.
Shortly after learning in May that a special counsel had been appointed to investigate links between his campaign associates and Russia, President Trump berated Attorney General Jeff Sessions in an Oval Office meeting and said the attorney general should resign, according to current and former administration officials and others briefed on the matter.
The president blamed the appointment of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, on Mr. Sessions’s decision to recuse himself from the Justice Department’s Russia investigation — a move Mr. Trump believes was the moment his administration effectively lost control over the inquiry. Accusing Mr. Sessions of “disloyalty,” Mr. Trump unleashed a string of insults on his attorney general.
According the Times’ reporting, following Robert Mueller’s appointment as special counsel, Trump blamed Sessions for the political crisis, described Sessions’ nomination as one of his worst decisions, and called him an “idiot.”
The attorney general reportedly sent a resignation letter to the White House soon after, and told associates “the demeaning way the president addressed him was the most humiliating experience in decades of public life.” (Trump aides talked him out of accepting Sessions’ resignation.)
I mention all of this, in part because it offers an interesting look at behind-the-scenes drama, in part because it sheds light on the president’s emotional erraticism, and in part because I’m honestly wondering – today, specifically – just how much Donald Trump hates Jeff Sessions.
You’ll recall that just last week, the White House dispatched the attorney general to publicly announce the demise of the DACA program and the end of protections for young Dreamer immigrants. It was one of the more important policy developments of Trump’s presidency to date, and Sessions was the face behind the cruelty.
As of today, however, Trump has suddenly expressed growing interest in rescuing DACA – which not only makes Sessions look bad, it’s also the substantive opposite of what Sessions wanted to see. By all accounts, the attorney general has put up with Trump’s abuse because he wants to use his Justice Department perch to pursue a far-right agenda on immigration, and over the last 24 hours, the president has indicated he’s prepared to move in the opposite direction.
How sure are we that Trump didn’t send Sessions out before the cameras last week just to make the attorney general look ridiculous a week later?