One of the more amazing developments of 2017 was Donald Trump's anger toward Attorney General Jeff Sessions, once a key member of his inner circle. The president reportedly threw an Oval Office tantrum in the spring, for example, in which he called Sessions an "idiot," in part because he wanted the attorney general to protect him from the Russia scandal, which became impossible when Sessions recused himself.
In the months that followed, Trump's frustrations with the Alabama Republican didn't fade. In September, the president hosted a dinner with conservative leaders, and when the conversation turned to Sessions, the president's comments were "dripping with venom." It was just one of many incidents in which Trump blasted his attorney general.
Sessions clearly had a decision to make about how he'd approach his responsibilities. He appears to have chosen the subservient path.
The attorney general has a new op-ed in USA Today, for example, crediting Trump with low crime rates.
When President Trump was inaugurated, he made the American people a promise: "This American carnage stops right here and stops right now."It is a promise that he has kept.... This first year of the Trump era shows once again that the difficult work we do alongside our state, local and tribal law enforcement partners makes a difference. Crime rates are not like the tides -- we can help change them. And under Trump's strong leadership, we will.
In reality, Sessions put a favorable spin on decent data. What he failed to mention is that the drop in crime rates occurred long before Trump took office, and giving the White House credit seems like a politically motivated stretch.
But therein lies the point: Sessions, apparently eager to work his way back into Trump's good graces, has decided that in this administration, the best attorney general is an obedient one.
Consider some of the recent news. Trump wants his perceived opponents in the FBI to be ousted? There's Jeff Sessions, leaning on the FBI director to make personnel decisions that would make the president happy. The White House wants to convince the public that immigrants are a national security threat? There's Jeff Sessions, releasing a wildly misleading report about terrorism.
Trump wants increased federal scrutiny of Democrats? There's Jeff Sessions, assuring Republicans that the Justice Department is taking their anti-Clinton theories seriously. Trump is whining about governmental leaks? There's Jeff Sessions, announcing a crackdown on leakers. Trump has a partisan vision about attacking so-called "sanctuary cities"? There's Jeff Sessions, threatening some of the nation's largest municipalities with subpoenas.
The Washington Post's Aaron Blake made the compelling case yesterday that it's "looking more and more like Jeff Sessions is doing Trump's political dirty work."
In early November, Trump suggested he wished he had more control over federal law enforcement. "You know the saddest thing, because I'm the president of the United States, I am not supposed to be involved with the Justice Department," the president said. "I am not supposed to be involved with the FBI. I'm not supposed to be doing the kinds of things that I would love to be doing. And I'm very frustrated by it."
A day later, Trump told reporters, "I'm not really involved with the Justice Department. I'd like to let it run itself." Asked if he might fire Sessions if he fails to investigate the White House's political opponents, Trump said, "I don't know."
The president hasn't made similar comments since. Perhaps Sessions' compliance with the White House agenda has extended his career in the Trump administration.