Yesterday, the New York Times published an interview in which (among many other curious things) the president exhaustively vented his fury at Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the Justice Department’s investigation. Trump went so far as to say that he regretted nominating Sessions for the job, and never would have done so had he known what he knows now. So, inquiring minds obviously wanted to know if Sessions might be stepping down.
But today, Sessions briefly and blandly responded to questions about Trump’s comments, saying he planned to stay on in the Justice Department “as long as that is appropriate,” as the Times reported. His spokesperson had no comment on whether the two men had plans to discuss Trump’s comments.
Trump has complained about Sessions’s recusal before, though in the past his anger has been expressed behind the scenes and via intermediaries. But more generally, this is also not the first time the president has accused subordinates of fireable offenses without trying to fire them, as my colleague Olivia Nuzzi has pointed out:
Although Trump once tried and failed to trademark the words, “You’re fired!” — his catchphrase from The Apprentice — it seems that he doesn’t actually enjoy repealing and replacing the loyalists that surround him. Like so much with the president, it’s shtick designed to make him look tough. “At the end of the day, he’s a natural-born salesman and he likes people to like him,” a second senior administration official said. “He’s a conflict-avoider. He hates firing people.”
So long as Sessions is willing to put up with his boss’s public abuse, his job is probably secure for the time being. That is particularly true because Trump’s post-Sessions options at Justice are not good, and a Senate confirmation hearing for a subsequent nominee might not go very well.
But Sessions’s feelings aside, the optics of Trump’s tirades against the attorney general are terrible. He owes an awful lot to Jeff Sessions, his earliest real supporter on Capitol Hill. They have no significant policy disagreements that we know of. If there is such a thing as “Trumpism,” Sessions is its chief acolyte.
For Trump to ignore all that and repeatedly trash-talk his attorney general because of his prudent recusal over the Russia investigation is a pretty clear indication that the president is not just distracted by the probe, but intensely fears it. He can claim all he wants that the whole thing is “fake news” that the failed media or the loser Democrats invented, but his behavior shows otherwise.