I never thought we’d all live this long. My assumption after November was that Donald Trump would have figured out a way by now to blow the mantle off the planet and scatter our collective component elements into the farthest reaches of space. As we are somehow still here, let’s take a moment to enjoy the ridiculous steel cage match unfolding between Trump and his attorney general, Jeff Sessions. There is so much wrong baked into this situation, so much error and ego and straight-up birdbrained ignorance, that we’re left with a simple question.
Gadzooks, who do you root for?
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Trump is a known quantity at this point. While his ultimate capacity for the demolition of all things moral, ethical, legal, intelligent or proper has yet to be established, he has done more than enough for us to cobble together a fair measure of the man, and it’s pretty straightforward stuff. The president of the United States is, in no particular order, a boor, an oaf, a braggart, a bully, unlettered, inexplicably vain, immoral, amoral, orange for some reason, an unskilled congenital liar, a racist, a sexist, a homophobe, a cheat, a fraud, a terrible public speaker, a comprehensive embarrassment every single day and the purveyor of notoriously bad steaks.
We know this. We also know that Trump, the self-crowned king of social media, has unfriended Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the most OMG WTF LOL way history has ever seen. He says it’s because Sessions hasn’t been tough enough on Hillary Clinton and White House leakers, but again, he’s a terrible liar. The reason Trump is going Donkey Kong on the attorney general has everything to do with a guy named Brian Benczkowski.
Benczkowski is a lawyer who came to work for the Department of Justice (DoJ) during the time of George W. Bush. He led Trump’s DoJ transition team after the 2016 election. Last Tuesday, he testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee because he’s been nominated to run the DoJ’s criminal division, which is a damned big deal. During that testimony, Benczkowski informed the committee that he once represented a Russian-owned financial institution named Alfa Bank.
“Questions about the bank’s activity first arose last year,” reports CNN, “when a group of computer scientists raised concerns about internet records that showed that Alfa Bank servers repeatedly looked up the unique internet address of a Trump Organization computer server in the United States.” Both the Trump for President campaign and Alfa Bank denied any relationship or wrongdoing. The whole matter was investigated by a team supervised by Brian Benczkowski from his partnership perch at Kirkland & Ellis, the world’s second-highest-grossing law firm.
Brian Benczkowski, along with every other person on the planet who knows something about Trump’s relationship with Russia, or thinks they know something, or might know something, is why Trump wants Jeff Sessions gone. Special counsel Robert Mueller and his ongoing Trump/Russia investigation are very interested in speaking to the Brian Benczkowskis of the world. This terrifies Trump, who wants Mueller’s investigation stopped. Sessions could have done that, if he hadn’t recused himself from all things Russia. Hilariously, Sessions is one of the people who knows something about Trump and the Russian government’s electoral meddling, and is himself an established serial liar and perjurer on the topic. That’s why Sessions recused himself from any part of any investigation. He didn’t want to; he had to, after all those undisclosed, lied-about meetings.
Ah yes, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, son of Alabama, named after the president of the Confederate States of America and the general who opened fire on Fort Sumter. Once deemed too racist for a federal judgeship by his fellow Republicans, Sessions has managed over the years to establish himself as a stalwart ally of the religious right, the coal industry and of course, the war weapons manufacturers.
His overt racism, you see, is not Mr. Sessions’ only selling point for the far right. In 2002, Sessions voted to authorize the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and in 2003 approved spending $86 billion on the endeavor. In 2005, he voted against paying for the war “on-budget,” meaning on the books, and that same year voted against investigating outside contracts awarded to companies like Blackwater for work in Iraq and Afghanistan. At every opportunity afterward, he voted against withdrawing US troops from Iraq.
With that, the tale is told: Vote for an illegal war, fund it lavishly, invite your friends to the trough, hide the funding from prying eyes and the public, and keep the money machine going by refusing to end the war no matter how many die in the process.
The tension surrounding whether Trump will actually fire his attorney general has been ratcheting up for days, but as of this writing, that shoe has not yet dropped. Those who name the president a coward point to this situation as proof: The man lacks the sand to back up his bluster. The big question for the media has been “Will Sessions resign?” The answer is utterly obvious: Hell no. Sessions has a lot of friends on the Republican side of the Senate, several of whom have forbidden Trump from firing him while promising terrible consequences if he does. This is unprecedented.
Sessions also has a lot of friends in the far-right reaches of the Republican Party, and they are giving Trump no end of grief for abusing their long-time champion in such a fashion. It is not too great a leap to wonder whether Trump’s terrible transgender military ban was some sort of half-assed sop tossed to his right flank, a gesture of fealty even as he keeps Sessions on the rack. Whatever his motivations may have been, that decision is turning out to be one of the grosser miscalculations of his weakening administration, and that is saying something.
There is also this: Jeff Sessions has not reached this high station in political life without knowing how to nurse, and properly repay, a grudge. Unless I am completely mistaken about everything I’ve ever known regarding human nature, politics and Southern gentlemen — the attorney general and I both have Alabama red clay under our fingernails; I’ve had my eye on him since George Wallace’s last term as governor — I can tell you this for certain sure: Jeff Sessions now despises Donald Trump, and will wait in the tall grass for the proper moment to fully express his displeasure. He may be giving meek interviews to Fox News, but when the time is right, Sessions will spring at Trump’s throat like a leopard and say “Bless his heart” when he does.
Where is that tall grass? The office of the attorney general of the United States. Trump wants Sessions to resign so he can nominate a replacement who won’t recuse themselves from involvement in the Russia investigations. That person would then arrange the dismissal of Robert Mueller and the termination of his investigation. As long as Sessions is in the office, with Senate Republicans and the base of the party rallying to his banner, with the president unwilling to fire him, Mueller is safe to continue his investigation. If that investigation bears prosecutable fruit, Jeff Sessions will have his vengeance.
Oh what a tangled web, right? Rooting for one over the other is akin to choosing between explosive diarrhea and persistent constipation. Either way, you’re dealing with a lot of shit. Mueller is no prize either, his ongoing investigation notwithstanding.
Me? I’m pulling for the simple truth. Donald Trump is a farce, Jeff Sessions is a fiend, but there are things we need to know. Let’s get to the bottom of all this — Trump’s questionable financial connections, the 2016 election, Russia, the vast number of ethics violations — with all due and deliberate haste, and then let’s bust out the big broom and sweep these stables clean. Please, for the love of all that is holy and good, may we come to see this gruesome calamity as the tallest of warning signs and vow to never, ever pass this way again.