President Trump on Tuesday afternoon denied that he is letting Attorney General Jeff Sessions twist in the wind. But that is the very definition of what Trump is doing, and he's doing it for an increasingly clear purpose: to make Sessions resign.
The worst part for Sessions is that there is really no way out. Trump seems bent on making his life a living hell for the foreseeable future, and there's not much Sessions can do to stop it besides give him exactly what he wants, thus leaving his own political career in tatters.
Trump continued his assault on Sessions in a Wall Street Journal interview published Tuesday afternoon — this time in highly personal terms. Trump suggested to the paper that Sessions, his earliest endorser among Senate Republicans, had backed Trump's candidacy only because he saw the big campaign rallies and wanted a piece of the action.
“When they say he endorsed me, I went to Alabama,” Trump said. “I had 40,000 people. He was a senator from Alabama. I won the state by a lot, massive numbers. A lot of the states I won by massive numbers. But he was a senator, he looks at 40,000 people and he probably says, 'What do I have to lose?’ And he endorsed me. So it’s not like a great loyal thing about the endorsement. But I’m very disappointed in Jeff Sessions.”
Ouch. The president of the United States basically just called his own attorney general thirsty. Sessions really stuck his neck out to endorse Trump when all of his colleagues were still skeptical; Trump just spat on that endorsement.
Later, in a news conference with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Trump was asked about potentially firing Sessions or forcing him to resign. He didn't directly address the matter, instead saying, “I'm very disappointed in the attorney general, but we will see what happens. Time will tell. Time will tell.”
“We'll see what happens” is notably what Trump said before he fired James B. Comey from his post as FBI director.
But in this case, it doesn't seem that Trump wants to fire Sessions. Instead, it seems that he wants to embarrass him into resigning. As I noted earlier Tuesday, that would have the added benefit of Trump not firing another law enforcement official over the Russia investigation. (After all, the first time he did it, with Comey, it earned him an obstruction-of-justice investigation.)
If that is what Trump is doing, what does that leave Sessions to do? Is he going to resign and give Trump what he wants? Is he going to throw away his decades of service in the Senate for six months as attorney general, after which history will record that he was essentially shamed into resigning by the president? That would be a huge stain on his political legacy.
Or is he going to stay in his position and open himself up to the kind of repeated abuse Trump has thrust upon him in recent days? Trump's attacks on Sessions are getting increasingly brutal and more personal. He has called him “weak,” “beleaguered” and now, essentially, a publicity seeker — a barnacle who clung to the side of Trump's pirate ship.
It's clear that Trump is going to keep doing this, day after day. And if Sessions tries to stick it out, who's to say Trump won't just ultimately fire him anyway?
The fact that Trump hasn't yet fired Sessions, even though he clearly wants to, is about as clear an admission as we'll get that Trump is concerned about his obstruction-of-justice probe; there can be no other reason that Sessions is still employed as the head of the Justice Department, when Trump clearly would rather he weren't.
But that's kind of neither here nor there for Sessions, who has no good options right now and probably just wants to crawl in a hole and hope this all goes away. Apparently that's his reward for supporting Trump.