WASHINGTON — Eventually, everyone in this town seems to wind up with the word “poor” in front of his or her name.
Such a fate is especially likely if one has associated with Donald Trump. As in, Poor Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He is latest to the firing line that has included such formerlys as FBI Director James Comey, national security adviser Michael Flynn and acting-Attorney General Sally Yates, as well as the “voluntarily resigned” — press secretary Sean Spicer, and Communications Director Michael Dubke.
Trump has begun making inquiries about firing Sessions, barring a resignation prompted by the president’s tweeted attempts at shaming him into resigning. His crime? A perceived lack of loyalty. Having recused himself from involvement in the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation — and, therefore, from defending the president, as Trump sees it — Sessions is no longer useful. (For the record, Sessions did reportedly offer to resign at one point.)
Speaking of loyalty, Trump offers little of what he expects from others. Way back in early 2016, when few were willing to sidle up to the Republican front-runner, Sessions bet the farm on this reality-show celebrity. He was the first sitting senator to endorse Trump, trading his legacy for the near-certain promise of a top position in the new administration.
Whatever Sessions’ hopes for the job, Trump apparently assumed that the attorney general would serve at his pleasure, regardless of what inconvenient ethics might preclude Sessions from also acting as the president’s personal defense attorney — that is, should any pre-emptive measures prove inadequate to thwart unwanted scrutiny.
Sessions’ recusal wasn’t only correct but probably unavoidable. It was revealed the day before his announcement that he had twice met with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, in July and September of 2016, despite having said during his confirmation hearing that he hadn’t. Like so many others who joined the Trump White House, Sessions seemed to have forgotten the meetings.
Kislyak must be one forgettable fellow. Everyone he meets from Trump World suffers amnesia, recalling not so much as a handshake. Though I’ve not had the pleasure, Kislyak looks like a jovial sort who enjoys a hearty chuckle. His sides must be splitting these days as Trump repeals and replaces officials who are investigating Russia or who deny knowing any Russians.
Testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sessions has said that his meetings with Kislyak, come to think of it, were routine and part of his activities as senator, not as campaign operative. Except for the fact that Sessions was part of the campaign at the time of those meetings, there’s no reason to doubt him.
Trump seems less bothered that Sessions, Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner all have contradicted his claims that none of his campaign people had ever met with any Russians associated with the government than by the realization that Sessions isn’t protecting his backside. To the nation’s chief executive, the latter spells kaputzkah. In recent tweets, the president called the attorney general “beleaguered,” accused him of being “very weak” on Hillary Clinton (why now?), and questioned his competence, saying: “Ukrainian efforts to sabotage Trump campaign — ‘quietly working to boost Clinton.’ So where is the investigation A.G.” (Say this for Trump: He has resisted servitude to punctuation and grammar.)
Sure, Trump must know that Sessions vowed during his confirmation hearing that, if confirmed, he would recuse himself from any matters concerning Hillary Clinton. After all, the hearing was televised. But why mention Clinton in this episode of Trump’s reality presidency? Because when the heat is on, Trump always sprinkles a little Clinton in the mix. How better to turn his supporters against Sessions and create momentum for him to resign than to remind Republican voters that Sessions let Clinton get away with (fill in the blank).
In the latest in his series of off-the-cuff true confessions, Trump last week told The New York Times that he never would have nominated Sessions as attorney general had he known he’d recuse himself. Recall that he also said he fired Comey because of the Russia investigation. Nobody ever accused the president of subtlety. The question now is, who’s next?
We’ll know soon enough, but Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price might want to keep his medical license current. As the Senate was preparing to vote again on the Obamacare repeal bill, Trump gave a rousing speech, saying he knew Price, who formerly sat on the House Ways and Means subcommittee on health, would get out there and get those votes.
If not, Trump quipped, “You’re fired!”
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for the Washington Post. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.