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- Attorney General Jeff Sessions is under fire from the right.
- President Donald Trump, some of his most fervent supporters, and right-wing figures are upset that Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation and has not further investigated the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton.
- One former White House official says he thinks Sessions is “getting a bit of a raw deal.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a methodical approach to pushing a staunchly conservative agenda as the head of the justice system for the past 10 months.
He’s ramped up immigration enforcement and begun new fights against drugs and gangs. He’s rolled back Obama-administration-era policies on LGBT rights, voting rights, and criminal justice and police reforms. The Justice Department is perhaps most forcefully carrying out the agenda paraded by President Donald Trump for over a year on the campaign trail.
But no one member of Trump’s Cabinet has faced more ire than Sessions – both from Trump and from his allies. He has been stuck in the doghouse since in March he recused himself from all matters related to the campaign and, by proxy, investigations involving Russia.
And more recently, he has been targeted for not pushing harder for another investigation into the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton.
“I think Jeff Sessions is one of the greatest disappointments of Trump’s Cabinet,” Ned Ryun, CEO of the conservative grassroots organization American Majority, said on Fox News following Sessions’ recent testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. “He should never have recused himself, and if he was going to, he should’ve refused the appointment.”
“Sessions is a big disappointment,” Jeff Kuhner, a conservative Boston radio host, tweeted earlier this month. “Trump should replace him with an AG who will go after Hillary’s crimes. Drain the swamp!”
Trump and allies ask why Sessions won’t investigate Clinton
In a piece Kuhner wrote on the subject, he said Sessions’ refusal “to investigate the seminal scandal of our time,” the 2010 Uranium One deal, made his firing a necessity.
That deal – in which nine US government agencies, including the Clinton-led State Department, approved the sale of the Canadian energy company Uranium One to a Russian nuclear-energy firm – has received renewed scrutiny on the right as the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election expands to examine any connections between Trump’s orbit and Russia.
Jeff Crouere, a columnist for the conservative news outlet Townhall, echoed that sentiment in a column titled “The Biggest Disappointment in Trump’s Presidency.”
He wrote that Sessions was “handicapped” by his recusals “from the serious issues that need his attention.” While the attorney general “has been vocal on the issue of combating illegal immigration, he has been unwilling to act on critical matters that impact the survival of the Trump administration,” Crouere wrote, calling for Trump to give Sessions the “you’re fired” treatment.
Trump earlier this month also expressed disappointment in the Sessions-led Justice Department after excoriating the attorney general for his recusal from all campaign-related matters and then calling upon the Justice Department to investigate the Clintons. Asked if he would fire Sessions, Trump said, “I don’t know.”
In his hearing before the House Judiciary Committee last week, Sessions was, of course, pressed most extensively on two topics: Russia and investigating the Clintons. It led to a memorable exchange with Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, a leading member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.
After describing what he characterized as evidence of Clinton’s wrongdoings and listing his arguments for why an appointment was necessary, Jordan said, “What is it going to take to actually get a special counsel?”
“It would take a factual basis that meets the standards of the appointment of a special counsel,” Sessions said, adding: “We will use the proper standards, and that’s the only thing I can tell you, Mr. Jordan. You can have your idea, but sometimes we have to study what the facts are and to evaluate whether it meets the standard that requires a special counsel.”
Sessions later said, “‘Looks like’ is not enough basis to appoint a special counsel.”
Sessions is ‘getting a bit of a raw deal’
As one Trump ally explained to Business Insider, the frustration with Sessions may not extend to rank-and-file Trump supporters. But it has become engrained in the Trump political class.
The ally said, however, that as attorney general, Sessions had carried out Trump’s agenda about as closely as anyone would have expected.
“I do think the guy is getting a bit of a raw deal,” a former White House official told Business Insider.
Barry Bennett, a former Trump campaign adviser, told Business Insider that Sessions had “done a great job” from “an anti-establishment point of view.”
“It’s hard to dig your way out of [this] hole,” he said, pointing to the criticism Sessions has received from the right. “But his wins are filling that hole.”
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Rick Tyler, the communications director for Republican Sen. Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign, told Business Insider that he was neither a critic nor a fan of Sessions. Tyler is often critical of Trump, who he said had “so diminished” Sessions that his job had become “really difficult.”
“I do think his entanglement, self-inflicted, in the Russia scandal has caused him to take focus off his agenda, and what he wants to do, and what he wants to hopefully accomplish,” he said. “I get the sense that this was his lifetime dream job, and now he has it, he’s occupying it at a time that’s made it really difficult for him.”
Criticism of Sessions from the right, he said, isn’t coming “from the right place.” Tyler said, however, that Trump had a point when he said he wouldn’t have hired Sessions had he known his attorney general would have to be recused from all Russia-related matters.
“You don’t want an attorney general who has to recuse himself from the biggest investigation going on in the Justice Department,” Tyler said.
Tyler said Sessions was correct that no standard had been met to appoint a special counsel in any investigation related to the Clintons, calling the push a case of “what-about-itus” that had emerged as a response to the deepening Russia investigation.
And Trump’s public pushing for Sessions to investigate Clinton is “very dangerous,” Tyler said.
“This isn’t a reflection on Sessions, but the president,” he said. “I think Sessions is trying to maintain the reputation of the judicial branch, which is important to every single American. Because you all have to know that when you come before the law, this isn’t a banana republic, and the fix isn’t in that, as painful and slow and laborious as the justice system is, that it meets our standard of justice in that you will be treated fairly in the courts. And I think the president is still undermining that, and I think Jeff Sessions is trying to maintain that.”