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Leave Jeff Sessions alone

Leave Jeff Sessions alone
Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Aug. 16. (Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post)

When President Trump nominated Jeff Sessions to be his attorney general, we were aghast. We called him “the wrong man for the job” because of his retrograde opinions on civil rights, sentencing, immigration and other issues.

So it was not just ironic, but absolutely mind-boggling, that only six months later, we found ourselves defending Sessions when Trump hinted he might be fired. And today, we’re doing so again.

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It’s not that we like Sessions any better than we used to, or that we think he’s doing a good job running the Justice Department. But we fear that Trump wants to remove him for one simple reason: as a way to undermine the investigation of possible collusion between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia. That must not be allowed to happen.

Sessions’ original sin in Trump’s eyes is that he recused himself from matters connected to the presidential campaign, in which he was a conspicuous cheerleader for Trump — a decision that paved the way for the appointment of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and the investigation Trump incessantly attacks as a “witch hunt.” Sessions also has enraged Trump by not investigating “Crooked Hillary” and other political opponents.

That was clear in a remarkable exchange last week between the two men. In an interview on Fox News, Trump complained that “I put in an attorney general that never took control of the Justice Department.” Sessions responded: “I took control of the Department of Justice the day I was sworn in which is why we have had unprecedented success at effectuating the president’s agenda — one that protects the safety and security and rights of the American people, reduces violent crime, enforces our immigration laws, promotes economic growth, and advances religious liberty.”

Then Sessions drew a telling distinction between these policy preferences — on which the president has a right to expect loyalty — and the attorney general’s responsibility to fairly enforce the law: “While I am attorney general, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations.”

Trump replied on Twitter saying: “Jeff, this is GREAT, what everyone wants, and so look into all of the corruption on the other side” — meaning Trump’s opponents and critics. The question is whether Trump will remove Sessions if he doesn’t take that advice.

Some Republicans in Congress seem alarmingly willing to let him sack Sessions. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who once said that there would be “holy hell to pay” if Trump fired Sessions, now says the president is “entitled to an attorney general he has faith in.” Graham blithely suggests that Trump might replace Sessions with a new attorney general who would leave Mueller unmolested.

We’re not convinced. Given Trump’s belief that Mueller’s investigation is a “witch hunt,” why should we expect him to choose a new attorney general (or acting attorney general) who would respect that investigation, or resist entreaties by the president to investigate alleged crimes by his political opponents? Trump needs to be told that Sessions is fireproof.

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