Last summer, as Donald Trump railed against Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) issued an unsubtle message to the White House. "If Jeff Sessions is fired, there will be holy hell to pay," the South Carolina Republican said.
Graham has clearly changed his mind. Last week, the senator said the attorney general "doesn't have the confidence of the president." In a new interview with CBS News' John Dickerson, Graham went a little further, and raised a new angle.
[W]hen Dickerson noted the president could fire a Cabinet member for any reason and asked if there is a substantive basis for firing Sessions, Graham brought up immigration."I think the immigration issue was poorly handled. The zero-tolerance program, I don't know where that came from," Graham said. "And I think that sort of blindsided the president."
Is this really where we are now? After weeks in which Trump defended his family-separation policy, and even falsely blamed Barack Obama for his actions, are we now supposed to believe the president was "sort of blindsided" by his own policy? It's all Jeff Sessions' fault?
It's entirely possible that Graham has behind-the-scenes insights that I'm not aware of. Maybe the zero-tolerance fiasco really was Sessions' fault, and the confused president didn't fully understand what was going on around him. Perhaps Trump was just following the attorney general's lead and ended up in a cruel place.
But all of this is starting to sound an awful lot like post-hoc rationalizations. Because at face value, the president is terrified of the Russia scandal; he's furious that Sessions isn't shielding him from legal consequences; and he's desperate to find someone who'll lead the Justice Department in a politicized and partisan way.
As part of that desperation, Politico reports that Trump has begun personally lobbying Republican senators -- including Graham -- hoping they'll take his side over Sessions'.
The impetus for Trump's latest push, according to two White House aides, was the dual convictions last week of his longtime lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen and his former campaign manager Paul Manafort -- outgrowths of the Russia probe, for which the president pointed the finger at Sessions. [...]Over the past week, Trump has belittled Sessions in conversations with several Republican senators, including Graham, and the idea of dismissing him no longer provokes the political anxiety it once did.
The article added that Trump has also complained to lawmakers and White House aides that Sessions didn't go to Ivy League schools, speaks with an accent the president doesn't understand, and "talks like he has marbles in his mouth" when he goes on television.
Putting aside the overt elitism behind such a posture, it seems pretty obvious that Trump started with the answer -- Sessions is a problem -- and has worked backwards in the hopes of finding excuses to do what he wants to do anyway.
There was a time GOP senators like Lindsey Graham pushed back against the president's offensive. Those days are apparently over.