- - Wednesday, July 26, 2017


Attorney General Jeff Sessions is the stand-up guy in the Trump administration. He lent legitimacy and seriousness to the Trump campaign when no other Republican in the Senate would get within 20 feet of the Donald. He has lent similar seriousness and magisterial grace to an administration that so far has had little of that.

He has begun reshaping the policies and priorities of his part of the government that Donald Trump has put in place with fits, starts and distracting tweets. He has rolled back Obama misadventures in the drug war, uncontrolled immigration and the imagined municipal sovereignty of sanctuary cities. Mr. Sessions is the cool, unflappable grown-up in an administration of bumbling amateurs struggling with on-the-job training.

The thanks he gets from a churlish boss is a hail of sticks and stones that would have driven a lesser man from office. The president is a man who knew how to get to the Oval Office, but seems to have scant understanding of what he can do with it. Campaigning is fun, and Mr. Trump is very good at that. Governing is work, and requires sharp focus, intense concentration, and the merciless elimination of extraneous distractions. The president likes the fun. The governing, not so much.

Mr. Sessions has concentrated on the job at hand at the Justice Department, and most of the substantive policy changes the administration has achieved so far bear the imprint of the Justice Department.

The president is miffed that the attorney general recused himself from the investigation of whatever the collusion there might have been between the Trump campaign, of which he was a part, and the Russian government — and there doesn’t appear to have been much if any of that — and in recusing himself Mr. Sessions is following the law and precedent. To have done anything else would have been a breach of the law, and Jeff Sessions, as his colleagues both Republican and Democrat in the U.S. Senate are quick to say, is ethical, incorruptible and by-the-book. Such a man does not cut corners for himself, or anyone else.

Mr. Trump expects everyone who works for him, and with him, to do whatever he must to protect the boss from rebuke or criticism. He expects the attorney general to make Donald Trump, and not the country, his first priority.

Every president deserves loyalty, and every president knows, or quickly learns if he is to have a successful presidency, that to win loyalty he must give it. Mr. Trump, who has done some good things and could do many more if he could just get over himself, does not understand that there are some things a loyal servant will not do, such as violate his personal code of honor.

The president’s constant tweet attack on Mr. Sessions makes him look petty, and worse, weak. A president can’t complain that an aide or a deputy has mistreated him. If he thinks that, he should do whatever is necessary to impose his will. He’s the president with the unique power and authority.

If he thinks Jeff Sessions has failed him, he should sack him forthwith. To do less makes him look feeble and irresolute. But he must be careful. If he does that he will regret it. He thinks long-suffering conservatives will forgive him anything. He can’t afford to be surprised.

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