It hasn’t been in the news much, but former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, now in a tight Republican primary to win back his old Alabama Senate seat, has been talking a lot about his time in the Justice Department and the issue that made him a persona non grata in Trumpworld: his March 2017 decision to recuse himself from supervising the Trump-Russia investigation.
Trump has often said that making Sessions attorney general was his “biggest mistake” as president. Privately, he will go on about Sessions at the drop of a hat. He has sometimes said that his top 10 mistakes were: 1) picking Sessions; 2) not firing FBI Director James Comey immediately; and 3-10) picking Sessions.
Sessions has mostly taken the abuse quietly. But a few weeks ago, Trump said on Fox News that he didn’t want to choose Sessions for attorney general but felt obligated because Sessions was the first senator to endorse his presidential candidacy. “He came to see me four times, just begging me to be attorney general,” Trump said. “He wasn’t, to me, equipped to be attorney general, but he just wanted it, wanted it, wanted it.”
That, apparently, was too much for Sessions to bear in silence. “I never begged for the job of attorney general, not four times, not one time, not ever,” he said in a statement shortly after Trump’s remarks. “The president offered me the job. I took it. I stood up for the truth and performed at the highest levels. Doing the right thing is not weakness, it is strength. My foundation is built on rock, not sand.”
That last part was a reference to the great recusal controversy. To this day, Sessions maintains the law required him to step away from the Trump-Russia investigation, and “I do not and will not break the law.”
A short time later, Sessions spoke out again, releasing an “Open Letter to the People of Alabama” that contained his most extensive comments on the recusal matter. “I was a central figure in the campaign and was also a subject of and witness in the investigation and could obviously not legally be involved in investigating myself,” Sessions wrote. “If I had ignored and broken the law, the Democrats would have used that to severely damage the president.”
Sessions also noted that he offered Trump his resignation the morning after Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel. Trump did not accept it. Sessions called the Mueller investigation “a massive waste of money chasing the deep-state myth of Russian collusion.” And he said, perhaps for the first time publicly, that he advocated that the president fire Comey immediately upon taking office.
“One thing you may not know is that I advised from the beginning of the administration that Comey should be removed and the FBI given a fresh start,” Sessions wrote. “I concluded that Comey was driven by ego, lacked self-discipline and lacked the judgment necessary to lead an agency as critical as the FBI.”
It’s not hard to see why Sessions is speaking out. Once so popular that he was reelected virtually by acclamation, he is headed to a Republican runoff in July with former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville. There are no good public polls, but most insiders in Alabama consider it an extraordinarily tight race, with Sessions favored in Birmingham, Mobile and some suburbs, and Tuberville leading in the mostly Trump-friendly rural areas. Despite the flack he has taken, Sessions has remained deeply loyal to the president, and he’s trying to remind voters of that before they make a final decision. Tuberville is also a strong Trump supporter.
For Trump, slamming Sessions has become second nature. But circumstances can change. Of course, both Trump and Sessions might lose in this year’s elections. But it is also not hard to envision the possibility that Trump wins reelection and Sessions wins back his Senate seat. Sessions might be part of a smaller Republican majority than exists now, meaning that the president would always need every GOP vote.
And were that to come about, Trump might find himself on more than one occasion needing the support of his old friend, Sen. Jeff Sessions. Life can indeed take funny turns.