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When Jeff Sessions finally called Trump's bluff

The walk down Pennsylvania Avenue was short, but the image was a show of force.The top three officials at the ...

Posted: Mar 2, 2018 9:07 AM
Updated: Mar 2, 2018 9:07 AM

The walk down Pennsylvania Avenue was short, but the image was a show of force.

The top three officials at the Justice Department strolled to dinner together Wednesday evening with smiles less than eight hours after Attorney General Jeff Sessions launched his first public rebuttal to President Donald Trump's latest fusillade on Sessions' "disgraceful" handling of Republican allegations of surveillance abuses at the department and FBI.

The images of Justice Department solidarity ricocheted through Washington, not so much because the three officials chose to dine publicly, but that they did so on a night that proved to be a turning point.

Behind the scenes earlier Wednesday morning, senior Justice officials were keenly aware that any response from Sessions could be viewed as a brushback to the President, as a source close to Sessions explained it, and crafted a statement with the intent of not going an inch further than necessary to defend the department. A second source inside the building said the President's tweet, which landed at 9:34 am, was greeted with some measure of disbelief, but also surprise.

Sessions was prepared to accept the consequences, but the purpose wasn't to pick a fight, the source said -- "he's still loyal to the President."

By Wednesday afternoon, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, a friend of Sessions, was on Fox News addressing the attorney general's fractured relationship with Trump and suggesting the tweet missed the mark.

"The President is wrong," said Mukasey. "And he doesn't know his own interests."

Sessions still at it

More than 24 hours later, the attorney general still has his job. In fact, Sessions went back to business as usual Thursday, speaking at a summit at the White House aimed at highlighting the Trump administration's efforts to combat the opioid crisis. The President later briefly acknowledged Sessions, seated in the front row, during his own remarks at the event, noting their conversation about potential lawsuits against drug manufacturers. But the two men were not seen directly interacting at the event.

Trump privately fumed Wednesday after Sessions released his statement vowing to carry out his duties with "integrity" and invoking the Constitution; a source familiar with the President's demeanor described Trump as indignant.

When asked Thursday if Trump wants to fire Sessions, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders demurred: "Not that I know of."

But others who surround the President readily acknowledged how broken their relationship is at this point. Those familiar with Trump's thinking say he has never privately backed off his criticism of his attorney general and were prepared for it to resurface. The President at times had rolled his eyes when Sessions appeared on screen or largely ignored him when the two were in the same meeting. Trump also often grumbles about Sessions to his friends and allies, leaving those he's speaking with wondering why he doesn't just fire him.

Yet any realistic hope of getting another attorney general confirmed by the Senate appears dim, as two key senators on the Judiciary Committee voiced support for Sessions Thursday.

Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, who recently feuded with Sessions over criminal justice reform issues, told reporters he has confidence in the attorney general and that he should be allowed to do his job. And Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham said he thinks Sessions is doing "a fine job."

"But, if you want to blow up the Senate, try to find an attorney general to replace Jeff Sessions under these circumstances," Graham quipped.

Brushback pitch

Some Justice Department veterans say Sessions ultimately made the right call.

"It's kinda like baseball. The President threw a pitch at Jeff Sessions' head and he was able to duck before it hit him," said Jamil Jaffer, founder of the National Security Institute and former associate White House counsel under President George W. Bush.

"The attorney general then would have been well within his rights -- at least as far as baseball etiquette goes -- to throw back at the President's head, but instead he decided to throw a hard inside fastball, just enough to brush him back off the plate, but not enough to start a beanball war," Jaffer said.

But Sessions' attempt to strike the right tone in defending his department and his own response to allegations of the FBI's surveillance abuses in the Russia investigation came as no comfort to the President.

His advisers were also surprised by his tweet -- which slammed Sessions for referring a matter to the inspector general's office that has "no prosecutorial power" -- because they had never heard Trump articulate such complaints at that level of detail before. Some even speculated Trump crafted the tweet after being counseled by someone outside of the administration.

While Trump and Sessions' irreconcilable differences have bubbled to the surface periodically since Sessions stepped aside from overseeing the Russia investigation less than a month into his tenure as attorney general last March, a d-tente of sorts had appeared to set over the past several months.

At an event in January, for example, Trump convened a meeting on prison reform at the White House. During the meeting, according to a source, the President turned to Sessions about three times for input and asked him to wrap up the meeting. Once it was over, however, they didn't linger.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 252475

Reported Deaths: 5521
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto17120175
Hinds16207322
Harrison13353193
Rankin10689211
Jackson10303183
Lee8796141
Madison8232162
Jones6288110
Forrest5949119
Lauderdale5847180
Lowndes5355116
Lafayette494292
Lamar484165
Washington4777123
Bolivar3966108
Oktibbeha392480
Panola368378
Pontotoc362853
Monroe3533105
Warren348498
Union343060
Marshall341665
Neshoba3370152
Pearl River327899
Leflore3002105
Lincoln297085
Sunflower282669
Tate270862
Hancock266559
Alcorn263253
Itawamba262459
Pike262077
Scott246245
Prentiss245052
Yazoo244355
Copiah240849
Tippah240450
Simpson234867
Leake230564
Coahoma230054
Grenada217770
Covington211371
Marion210672
Adams204670
Winston200164
Wayne199630
George199038
Attala193559
Newton191342
Tishomingo184459
Chickasaw183644
Jasper169735
Holmes168567
Clay159033
Stone142320
Tallahatchie140134
Clarke138660
Calhoun135721
Smith120123
Yalobusha116534
Walthall111836
Noxubee110322
Greene109729
Montgomery109434
Carroll104221
Lawrence102417
Perry101631
Amite97725
Webster92224
Tunica86321
Claiborne86125
Jefferson Davis84125
Humphreys82924
Benton81523
Kemper77120
Quitman6888
Franklin66415
Choctaw60313
Wilkinson58325
Jefferson53819
Sharkey42717
Issaquena1596
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 422598

Reported Deaths: 6120
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson62039921
Mobile30225548
Madison27052186
Tuscaloosa20728267
Montgomery18978305
Shelby18504114
Baldwin16251182
Lee12465101
Morgan12233113
Etowah11735168
Calhoun11122200
Marshall10191107
Houston8598148
Cullman8023105
Limestone800274
Elmore7836101
DeKalb768397
Lauderdale754683
St. Clair7535120
Talladega6166108
Walker5897174
Jackson580341
Colbert532073
Blount530483
Autauga518455
Coffee441056
Dale396181
Franklin366248
Chilton336165
Russell330310
Covington327268
Escambia316842
Dallas303196
Chambers282769
Clarke281433
Tallapoosa2616107
Pike248729
Marion245650
Lawrence243647
Winston226635
Bibb215147
Geneva201435
Marengo199029
Pickens196531
Hale175842
Barbour172936
Butler169658
Fayette168226
Cherokee160330
Henry153621
Monroe145217
Randolph139835
Washington137626
Clay126145
Crenshaw118744
Lamar118019
Cleburne117423
Macon114735
Lowndes110335
Wilcox103121
Bullock99028
Perry97419
Conecuh94420
Sumter89026
Greene76023
Coosa60515
Choctaw51224
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