The Russia Investigations: Sessions On Edge, Bannon Exiled And Internecine Combat

Attorney General Jeff Sessions holds a news conference at the Department of Justice on December 15, 2017, in Washington, D.C.
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This week in the Russia investigations: Big problems for Sessions, Bannon cut adrift and Republicans search for more weapons to fire.

Living on the edge
A lighthouse can stand safely on a barrier island one morning and then when a big storm blows through, be teetering at land's end by the next.

Following the heavy cyclone of news this week, dawn in Washington, D.C., on Saturday found Attorney General Jeff Sessions on the slippery sand — and that could also mean peril for Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller.

An explosive New York Times scoop revealed that Sessions tried to smear then-FBI Director James Comey before he was fired. The report, by Michael Schmidt, also said President Trump ordered White House counsel Don McGahn to lean on Sessions not to recuse himself from the Russia probe, and when Sessions did recuse, the president fustigated him. Sessions offered to quit but Trump said no.

So not only is Sessions persona non grata with the president — that's been the case for months. Now the public and people inside the Justice Department know Sessions was actively trying to undermine his own FBI director, as part of a pattern of conduct directed by Trump — who himself had asked Comey to lay off then-national security adviser Mike Flynn, then fired Comey, etc.

All this could make life very uncomfortable for Sessions inside DOJ and with the FBI. A small but vocal coterie of House Republicans has already been calling for Sessions' head. (They have no vote but they do keep the anti-Sessions drumbeat going inside the conservative sphere.)

Plus Trump did not invite Sessions to a retreat he's holding over the weekend at Camp David. Plus EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt felt comfortable enough with this state of play to wink and nod to Politico about how he'd be interested in becoming attorney general ... if the job were open.

What does it all mean? Sessions has been in hot water before with Trump but came through it, in part thanks to steadfast support from his longtime allies in the Senate. How strong is that firewall now? Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has said he had no plans to confirm a new attorney general. And Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., has threatened to hold up all Justice Department nominees after Sessions rescinded earlier permissive guidelines on marijuana enforcement.

So if Sessions were to go for real this time, Trump might not be able to quickly and easily appoint someone else — someone not recused from the Russia probe — to wrangle the Justice Department on the president's behalf. But if the political dynamics change, that could change the play for the White House. As NPR's Carrie Johnson has reported, replacing the leadership at Justice is one way that Trump could try to control or get rid of Mueller.
https://www.npr.org/2018/01/06/576057765/the-russia-investigations-sessi...