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Monday, November 19 , 2018, 7:54 am | Fair 47º

 
 
 
 

Susan Estrich: The President and the Attorney General

"It's Bobby," President-elect John F. Kennedy supposedly whispered, announcing that he had chosen his brother as his attorney general.

A brother or sister is what every president wants. The attorney general is the only Cabinet member who can effectively take the president's job away.

So of course the president is upset with his attorney general. 

He's upset because he wanted him to run the Russia investigation — run it right into the ground.

If there is one thing that has been consistent about Donald Trump, it's his determination to shut down the investigation of his, his campaign's and now his family's connections with all things Russia, including its government's assistance in subverting this nation's democracy.

How could Jeff Sessions not have understood that he was being put into place to shut down an investigation that had already taken on a life of its own?

I'm no defender of Sessions, but he did the right thing in recusing himself. And if he hadn't, he would have had to appoint a special counsel, as his deputy did.

It's not because either man was out to get the president. That, of course, is Trump's worldview — beginning and ending as it does with him. 

But an attorney general cannot intervene to shut down an investigation of the role of the Russian government in courting the favor of the president by influencing the election in his favor. Half his appointees would resign in protest.

You'd have Congressional investigations. It's not done. If he'd asked, and they'd dared, anyone who had spent any time in the swamp could have told him about that old-fashioned Justice Department thing about integrity. 

Now, if you're sitting in the middle of a swamp, and you've done nothing wrong, you don't say: "Fire the sheriff" or "I'm thinking about firing the sheriff." 

You say: "We're going to get to the bottom of this. We're going to find out who did what, and what the Russians did to try to influence our democracy, and let the chips fall where they may. I'm not afraid of the truth."

Ever hear President Trump say that?

The Trump Organization does not have a Constitution, three branches of government, a fourth estate and a tradition that values the rule of law above all. President Trump is no fan of any of the above as applied to him, and he makes no bones about it. 

It is said — every day, by every analyst, and with reason — that this is what Trump's base supporters, the 40 percent who keep his ship afloat, keep Washington Republicans looking the other way, like about him.

He is tough. He pulls no punches. Says what he thinks. Sessions should have told him. Sessions sucker punched him. You don't sucker punch Donald Trump.

Except he's not tough at all, not really. He can't get anything done, even though he controls both houses of Congress. His arrogance becomes incompetence.

He could have been the hero, called Republicans and Democrats to the table to hammer out a deal on health care, taken credit if anything got better, putting aside a mostly intractable problem.

Instead, the Republicans' failure will be the centerpiece of his first year.

And what is with this romance with Vladimir Putin? Ronald Reagan would roll over in his grave. How can Republicans sit silent, or worse, leave him on his own? How can the Russians know what Trump said, while we don't?

After a while, what Trump's supporters call "tough" begins to sound like the sour grapes of a loser — a man who is under the gun, has accomplished little, is at the mercy of Congress and not vice versa and is still, by all reports, too arrogant to recognize his problems, to right his own White House ship, much less change its direction.

For those of us who wince when we hear a president threatening his attorney general and musing about firing a special prosecutor, Thursday's interview was one more admission by a president who would put himself above the law if only he could.

We are a nation divided: between those who see that and cringe, and those who are still yearning for the Donald Trump they voted for.

Susan Estrich is a best-selling author, the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the USC Law Center and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Click here to contact her or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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