You might think a president who has aroused fears about his commitment to the rule of law — a president who has threatened to imprison his election opponent, a president whose business empire has created more conflict-of-interest issues than can you can count — might go out of his way to name a boring, conventional, legal-Establishment type as his attorney general.
That is not the way the wind seems to be blowing at the moment. Indeed, anyone from Trump’s reported short list for the position of chief law-enforcement officer of the United States would likely increase rather than diminish fears that his administration would use the Justice Department as an instrument of Trump’s sketchier or more divisive ambitions.
Early speculation revolved around two men who were reasonably distinguished federal prosecutors before they ran for office. Both were, moreover, early, avid, even craven Trump supporters. Chris Christie, who was running the whole transition apparatus until just a few days ago, appears to have been hit by some sort of political lightning bolt in Trumpland, probably because two of his closest associates in the New Jersey governor’s office seem headed for the hoosegow in conjunction with the Bridgegate scandal. Another alleged factor is revenge for Christie’s role in sending Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner’s father to the hoosegow. In any event, Christie seems to have fallen off the list. So, too, has Rudy Giuliani — though he has directly taken himself out of consideration as attorney general, seeming to be interested only in being secretary of State.
With these two worthies gone, Trump’s list seems to have taken a turn into less traditional territory. One possibility is the man who can probably name his gig in a Trump administration, unless he chooses to stay in the Senate as the new administration’s de facto legislative leader: Alabama senator Jeff Sessions, for a while during the nomination contest Trump’s only supporter in the upper chamber. For Sessions, becoming attorney general would cap a long, angry comeback from the humiliation he suffered in 1986 when the Senate Judiciary Committee rejected his confirmation as a federal judge thanks to his questionable views toward civil-rights laws and attitudes toward African-Americans. At present, Sessions is best known for his hard-core position on immigration policy, and for vehement opposition to criminal-justice reform. His nomination to head the Justice Department would manage the difficult feat of equally angering African-Americans and Latinos.
But at least Sessions has a long résumé in law enforcement and policy-making. The name that has taken off like a rocket this week in speculation for the position is Kansas secretary of State Kris Kobach, whose reputation, such as it is, is almost entirely wrapped up in constitutionally dubious schemes to profile Latinos in order to deter illegal immigration, and to restrict voting rights in order to keep said Latinos from committing “voter fraud.” Kobach’s first job out of law school was as counsel to the anti-immigration group FAIR. While pursuing a political career in Kansas, he made time to draft famously draconian laws adopted in Arizona (SB 1070) and Alabama aimed at harassing people who might be undocumented. As Kansas secretary of State since 2011, Kobach has championed voter-ID laws while maintaining his national visibility on immigration enforcement. In Trumpworld (which he joined back in February), he’s known as a hard-liner on immigration, and for suggesting the reinstitution of a post-9/11 policy for registering immigrants and visitors. The registry program, which critics say has a disproportionate effect on Muslims, was ended in 2011.
I’d say Sessions and Kobach are neck-and-neck as provocations to people who fear Trump will be as bad as they originally imagined. Still another name in the mix for AG is jaw-dropping for a different reason: Florida attorney general Pam Bondi. If the name sounds familiar to you, it is probably because Bondi was the alleged beneficiary of a legally questionable gift from the Trump Foundation at a time when she was looking into potential charges against Trump University. Bondi’s early support for Trump’s candidacy earned her a position on his transition team — but does the mogul really want to guarantee that questions about his relationship with Bondi never go away?
And another improbable name has emerged: none other than Lyin’ Ted Cruz! I am reasonably sure there has never been a president who placed in charge of the oath-administering and integrity-protecting department of the federal government someone he recently and repeatedly called a liar. That would be quite the coup, and might even obscure the implications of an attorney general who believes that shutting down the government and threatening the credit of the nation is an acceptable tactic.
The overall slant of Trump’s AG short list, at the moment at least, has to make people who are fearful of a politicized right-wing Justice Department count their blessings that Stephen Bannon never went to law school.