President Donald Trump continued his long-running public shaming campaign of Jeff Sessions Wednesday, with a tweet bashing his attorney general’s behavior as “disgraceful.”
Tweeted Trump: “Why is A.G. Jeff Sessions asking the Inspector General to investigate potentially massive FISA abuse. Will take forever, has no prosecutorial power and already late with reports on Comey etc. Isn’t the I.G. an Obama guy? Why not use Justice Department lawyers? DISGRACEFUL!”
Here’s what is actually disgraceful: The president of the United States is engaged in a one-sided smear effort against the man who, less than 18 months ago, he nominated to be the top law enforcement official in the country.
- In December 2017, Trump told The New York Times that he would never have named Sessions as attorney general if he had known Sessions was going to recuse himself from the investigation into Russia’s attempted meddling in the 2016 election.
- In late July 2017, Trump referred to Sessions as “beleaguered” and hit him for not looking more into the alleged crimes of Hillary Clinton.
- The next day, Trump savaged Sessions as “very weak” for his handling of “Hillary Clinton crimes.”
- That same day, Trump told The Wall Street Journal he was “disappointed” in Sessions’ recusal: “Why didn’t you tell me that you were going to do that, and I wouldn’t have appointed you?” he said.
- In May 2017, following the news that Sessions would recuse himself from the Russia investigation, Trump, according to The New York Times, called Sessions an “idiot” and said he should resign.
But let’s take it out of the context of a president talking about his attorney general. If a boss treated an employee this way – denigrating him publicly, saying he would never have hired him if he knew then what he now knows – we would say that boss was acting deeply inappropriately. Heck, the person being berated might even file a complaint with the human resources department because of the boss’s behavior.
Go back even further in your life. If a kid at school called your kid “beleaguered” or “very weak” or “disgraceful,” you would call that kid a bully and maybe even ask the school to do something about it.
And yet we seem to tolerate this sort of behavior from the President of the United States – a man who holds a position of massive authority and import, someone who influences the behavior of people whether or not he intends to.
This is not to say “woe to poor Jeff Sessions.” The former Alabama senator was a prominent Trump surrogate during the course of the 2016 campaign and spent enough time around Trump to know what he was getting into when he accepted the attorney general job. He wanted the job more than he worried about working for Trump.
Plus: Sessions could always quit. He could have quit after all of the past Trump slights. He could quit today.
He didn’t. Instead, Sessions said this: “As long as I am the attorney general, I will continue to discharge my duties with integrity and honor, and this department will continue to do its work in a fair and impartial manner according to the law and Constitution.”
This isn’t about Sessions, though. Not really. This is about Trump redefining – downward – the sort of behavior we are willing to accept (or ignore) from our leaders.
The President touts himself as the biggest, baddest boss in town. If that’s true, and if he really believes Sessions is doing as poor a job as he seems to believe, via his tweets, then Trump should fire the attorney general. If not, he should let Sessions do his job without undermining him at every turn.
That is what an adult does. What Trump is doing is the opposite.
And yet, with the exception of a handful of Republicans who have come to Sessions’ defense, there has been little hue and cry over this latest attack from Trump.
Maybe that’s because there’s an ongoing feud between his chief of staff and his son-in-law. Or maybe it’s because his communications director had admitted to telling white lies in support of him. Or maybe it’s because the special counsel Robert Mueller is looking into Trump’s financial status – and maneuvers – prior to his decision to run for president.
I get it. Trump has a remarkable knack for making news. But when his attacks on Sessions aren’t big news anymore, it amounts to a tacit acceptance that that sort of behavior is normal now. It isn’t. Or it shouldn’t be.