On Tuesday, more than two-and-a-half years before the 2020 election, President Trump named his campaign manager for his reelection effort. No president in recent memory has announced his intention to run again, let alone picked his campaign chief, this far ahead. Most of them tried to govern without the appearance of an ongoing campaign on the theory they might get more done. Not Trump. He for whatever reason felt compelled to announce, in effect, “I am too relevant! I absolutely will survive this scandal leading to more than a dozen indictments!”
Trump then kicked his tweeting into high gear with an attack on the attorney general Wednesday morning: “Why is A.G. Jeff Sessions asking the Inspector General to investigate potentially massive FISA abuse. Will take forever, has no prosecutorial power and already late with reports on Comey etc. Isn’t the I.G. an Obama guy? Why not use Justice Department lawyers? DISGRACEFUL!” Once again, he is attempting to direct the particular investigations ongoing within the Justice Department. Sessions, remarkably, told the president to buzz off. “We have initiated the appropriate process that will ensure complaints against this Department will be fully and fairly acted upon if necessary,” he said in a statement. “As long as I am the Attorney General, I will continue to discharge my duties with integrity and honor, and this Department will continue to do its work in a fair and impartial manner according to the law and Constitution.” This would be an unprecedented feud — if not for Trump’s prior outbursts railing at Sessions for recusing himself in the Russia investigation.
As The Post explains, “Trump was referring to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s assertion the day before that Justice Department Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz would look into alleged surveillance abuses that legislators on the House Intelligence Committee have been debating in recent weeks. An inspector general spokesman confirmed that the attorney general had asked the office to review such issues but declined further comment.” While House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) has tried to create controversy alleging massive corruption (or something) in obtaining a FISA warrant, the FISA court has not indicated anything was amiss. Moreover, Democrats released a memo that essentially shot down the notion that the FBI behaved improperly in seeking surveillance on suspected Russian agent Carter Page.
What has set Trump off, dashing to reaffirm his political viability for 2020 and trying once again to rattle or push his attorney general into retirement? It could be that the failure of Nunes’s memo to throw the Russia probe off balance annoyed Trump, so he’s trying to whip up another round of hysteria on the right. He might have seen polls showing that the voters trust the special counsel more than they do Trump’s denials of collusion. Max Bergmann, who heads the Moscow Project, surmises, “Since Nunes’s memo was a big whiff he is searching for something. And he wants Sessions to give it to him by launching an investigation into … something.”
In any event, Sessions is signaling he’s not going to be goaded into resigning — which would give Trump a chance to name an attorney general who would take back oversight of the Russia investigation from Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein. Trump tried this before and failed to push Sessions out when the GOP base rallied to Sessions’s side. Trump certainly could fire Sessions — but his aversion to directly firing subordinates may prevent that. (Whether Trump grasps it or not, Sessions’s firing might set off a backlash on the right and raise the specter of direct interference with the Russia probe.)
It could be that Jared Kushner’s loss of top-secret clearance and foreign powers’ reported attempts to use Kushner’s business interests to influence him and the president are proving unnerving and embarrassing. Maybe Trump’s lawyers reminded him he will eventually have to talk to his nemesis special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. He might even be wigged out that his longtime aide Hope Hicks, who has already spoken to the special counsel’s team, talked to the House Intelligence Committee this week.
Alternatively, he recent outbursts might have nothing to do with Russia. Anything from 2018 midterm polling to shifting public attitudes on guns might have set him off. What is apparent is that Trump can frequently be rattled. When he is, he lacks the self-control to conceal it. To the contrary, he highlights his deep anxiety about the probe. That might suggest the prospect of talking to Mueller now weighs on him.
Trump’s repeated Twitter storms should also inform Congress and the public that he is incapable of rationally performing his job or separating his own legal problems from the country’s business. Republicans such as Nunes and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (who indulges Nunes) might think they are helping Trump; in fact, they are merely raising his panic level when stunts fail. They thereby help expose Trump’s emotional and intellectual unfitness for office.