Sessions’ Exit and Trump’s Unprincipled, Transactional Approach to Political Relationships

Jason Fehrnstrom, Scarlet Staff

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During the inceptive stages of Trump’s political ascendancy he and his acolytes faced one urgent, perennial problem; lack of mainstream support within the G.O.P rank and file. Seasoned and temperate Republicans branded themselves as #NeverTrump and made an honest effort to prevent their party from devolving into one that candidly embraces a blood and soil nationalist ethos.  

It is difficult to locate precisely in this historical inquiry where Trump was able to mainstream his ideas and develop a powerful coalition hellbent on redefining the party entirely. However, there is one moment in particular that warrants a revisitation.

Jeff Sessions, a long-standing U.S senator from Alabama, endorsed Trump on February, 28, 2016. He was the first major U.S politician to stand unequivocally behind the contentious candidate. The men spoke to the citizens about immigration, drug offenses, crime reduction and a litany of other buzzword topics.

The content of these speeches is an ancillary concern. What matters most was that an unbreakable bond was formed between a political outsider and a seasoned veteran of the Republican party. Trump’s invaluable endorsement enhanced the political legitimacy of his campaign and mainstreamed ideas which hitherto existed on the periphery of the political right. Likewise, Session’s become a rockstar in the Trump movement as a result of his early, unabiding support for the future President and his policies.

The burgeoning, mutually beneficial relationship between the soured precipitously during the incipient stages of what has become known as the Mueller Investigation. Upon being appointed Attorney General by President Trump, Sessions was compelled to answer questions about the campaign in front of the Senate Judiciary Community. During these meetings Sessions vociferously denied that he had contact with any Russian officials.

Media outlets smelled something fishy and decided to search for inconsistencies and falsifications in Session’s Testimony. Unsurprisingly, these were not hard to find. Sessions met twice with a Russian Ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, during his appointment as a Foreign Policy Advisor for the Trump Campaign.

Sessions, a newly-minted attorney general, was faced with what amounted to be the most difficult political decision of his career. Factions belonging to both ends of the political spectrums insisted that he recuse himself from the investigation. The American public was incapable of reconciling Mr. Sessions’ involvement in the campaign, and his subsequent lies about it, with the idea that he would play a powerful role in shaping the investigation.

Public pressure, recommendations made by Justice Department Ethics Officials, and  even Mr. Sessions’ own political principles powerfully converged at a pivotal moment in this infant presidency. Consequently, Sessions decided to recuse himself from the 2016 Election investigation.

Sessions’ resignation was a causal chain in a link of events that led to the still-ongoing Mueller Probe. The American public has become well-aware of Trump’s inimical feelings towards this investigation. It has essentially become the bane of his existence.

This perceived abandonment on the part of Sessions sent Trump into one of his characteristic prolonged episodes of grudge-holding, resentment and anger. Trump publicly announced that had he known Sessions would recuse himself, he would have picked another Attorney General.  

Moreover, he referred to Jeff Sessions in a tweet as our “beleaguered Attorney General” and insisted that more taxpayer resources be dedicated to investigating the email servers of Hillary Clinton. The picture is clear; Trump incessantly bullied a top cabinet official for years and years. Several have suggested that interactions between the two rarely went beyond mandatory cabinet meetings.

Interestingly, the unraveling of this relationship and Trump’s outward condemnations of Mr. Sessions had no virtual impact on the ability of the Attorney General to tirelessly make gains on the promises made to key Trump constituencies.

Sessions mercilessly pursued his goal of solving what he sees as a dire immigration problem. High-profile, contentious policies such as the child separations were drafted and announced by this bullied Attorney General. Moreover, Sessions made significant inroads to battling MS-13, a gang frequently mentioned by Trump during his fear-mongering diatribes.  

Even as he announced his resignation this past week, Sessions spoke of record numbers of criminal prosecutions on drugs, immigration, and guns.  

Certainly, many of these policies are objectionable. The child separation policy especially demonstrated the moral deficiencies of our public leaders. However, Sessions’ behavior as Attorney General demonstrates something that is beyond contention. Sessions saw himself as an attorney beholden to the constitution and the people. He paid attention closely to the needs of Trump’s constituencies and delivered on the promises they wanted. He was bound by principles, however objectionable they may be. Additionally, he removed himself from an investigation to his own detriment because his participation was at odds the ethical procedures at the Justice Department.

Conversely, Trump’s behavior towards Sessions during his tenure as Attorney General conveys an opposite set of personality traits and values. Trump earnestly believed that his Attorney General was beholden solely to him; not the country or the constitution itself. Trump sees all political relationships as transactional. Unwavering loyalty, towards but not from him, is the overriding principle in his mind.

There are many problematic aspects regarding these two aforementioned men. However, it is certain that Trump’s authoritarian tendencies and obsession with loyalty will lead us down a darker road than Sessions’ run-of-the-mill conservative talking points about immigration and issues of that variety.