By Holly Williams
Elm Staff Writer
On Nov. 7, Attorney General Jeff Sessions resigned at Donald Trump’s request. Session’s exit comes after months of animosity between himself and the president.
Trump felt that the former Alabama senator had failed to “protect” him after Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe, a grudge that catalyzed many public disagreements and ultimately, the AG’s resignation.
Trump named Sessions’ former Chief of Staff, Matthew Whitaker, as acting attorney general. Whitaker, thus far, has not indicated he has any intention of recusing himself from the Russia probe as his predecessor did. New fears have arisen that Whitaker, an outspoken critic of the Mueller investigation, could interfere or terminate the probe.
To Sessions, recusing himself was a way to ensure that the Department of Justice was both impartial and compliant with regulations concerning the Mueller probe. To Trump, it was a betrayal of trust and the duties of his post.
Last July, the President said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that he was “very disappointed” in Sessions. Trump had repeatedly expressed his displeasure at Session’s performance, often on his platform of choice, Twitter. Trump has scorned Sessions, calling him “weak” and his actions “disgraceful.” He even offered up a sarcastic “Good Job, Jeff” after two Republican congressmen seeking re-election were indicted in September.
Despite the hostility, Trump is certainly dismissing one of the most effective enforcers of his policies. Sessions, while perhaps not allying himself to the president, was faithful to the ideological framework of justice advanced by the Trump administration.
Sessions, unparalleled within the administration when it comes to receiving personal hatred from the president, is likely also unmatched in his legacy.
Even on his last day in office, Sessions signed an act that will restrict the use of consent decrees in police departments. Consent decrees were a tool of the Obama administration to enforce reform of police departments that were corrupt or using excessive force.
Earlier in his tenure, Sessions encouraged prosecutors to seek the most severe sentences for any crime, even nonviolent drug offenses. He rescinded guidance on Transgender students and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). He, although unsuccessfully, tried to withhold federal funding from sanctuary cities. He mandated a zero-tolerance policy for illegal entries which would result in the controversial family separations at the border. In defending the administration’s decision to separate parents and children, Sessions cited a Bible verse, Romans 13. In an issue where Trump may have remained only espousing rhetoric, Sessions gave him legitimacy and results.
With Session’s departure, the Department of Justice’s aims have shifted fundamentally, from protecting civil rights to hard-lining on immigration and the War on Drugs. With the appointment of Whitaker as acting attorney general, the DOJ has spiraled even further to becoming the personal political tool of the president.
Trump will remain dissatisfied with any AG he appoints until that AG weaponizes their post and protects the president from investigation. Essentially, they will have to lift him above the law they are sworn to uphold.
Trump’s likely found one that will fulfill the role — in the ways he intends, not as the impartial post it was designed to be.