President Donald Trump’s Labor Day tweet directed at Attorney General Jeff Sessions wasn’t just an angry employer spouting off publicly about one of his least favorite subordinates. Had it just been that, it would have been nothing worse than pathetic — an ill-advised attempt to scold a member of the cabinet in a manner that was as humiliating as possible. Something on par with a baseball team’s manager complaining on the post-game show about a player not running out a grounder rather than taking up the matter in the locker room.
But what President Trump did on Twitter was to complain that the U.S. Department of Justice under Attorney General Sessions had essentially done its job prosecuting potential criminal behavior regardless of its political consequences. Two “very popular Republican Congressmen” were being charged “just ahead of the Mid-Terms.” And why was that important? Because “Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time. Good job Jeff…..”
The president didn’t mention them by name, but he was obviously tweeting about Rep. Chris Collins of New York and Rep. Duncan Hunter of California. Both were indicted in August — Mr. Collins for insider trading and Mr. Hunter for serious campaign finance violations that involved using campaign money for family indulgences like vacations, groceries, elective surgery and on and on. The indictments weren’t exactly a surprise. Mr. Hunter’s campaign offices were raided by the FBI earlier this year; the claims of insider trading involving an Australian company were so damning that Mr. Collins elected not to run for re-election.
Both men have pleaded not guilty. Maybe they’ll be found innocent. But the president wasn’t arguing their guilt or innocence in his social media missives. His complaint was that the Justice Department charged them and that Mr. Sessions had apparently not been looking out for the perceived best interests of the White House and presumably the Republican Party. In other words, an upcoming election is more important than putting crooked politicians in jail because these two are, after all, not just members of the GOP but early Trump supporters.
Surely, there have been presidents who harbored such thoughts of self-before-country (or wrong-before-right), but has anyone before expressed them so publicly and unequivocally? This is the kind of thinking more closely associated with “The Godfather” than with our nation’s chief executive. And it’s especially dangerous for Mr. Trump because it once again demonstrates that his thinking on special counsel Robert S. Mueller’s investigation — that it’s a “witch hunt” — is entirely a product of self-interest. Whatever the Russians did to the last election (or perhaps the next one) and whoever they dealt with in the Trump campaign or anywhere else, the president believes Mr. Sessions should deep-six the investigation.
Over and over again, one sees President Trump’s views on crime and punishment, on right and wrong, as entirely about him and his greater glory. Messrs. Collins and Hunter should take note. They might be presidentially favored today, but they could still end up like Fredo. Mr. Sessions was an early supporter, too. The midterms are probably the only thing keeping him from the political equivalent of a Fredo’s extended fishing trip. Once again, timing is everything.
Did America just notice this bit of ugliness? Complaining about Mr. Sessions is nothing new. The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward details some spectacular Trumpian insults of the Alabaman in his new book. But the casual acceptance of criminal behavior and jeering of law enforcement is still breathtaking to anyone not yet inured to the Trump organized crime modus operandi. Sen. Ben Sasse, the Nebraska Republican, struck back and his statement got it exactly right: The U.S., he wrote, “is not some banana republic with a two-tiered system of justice — one for the majority party and one for the minority party.” Why didn’t every other Republican in Congress say the same? Oh, right. They don’t want to be “Sessioned.”
Still, there are signs voters have picked up on this. In a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, Mr. Trump’s disapproval number stood at 60 percent with a majority of Americans supporting the Mueller probe and keeping Mr. Sessions as the nation’s top law enforcement official. The poll also showed most Americans believe the president has obstructed justice. And how could they not? Isn’t calling on your attorney general to delay or derail a couple of prosecutions based on your political needs exactly that? One thing about this president, he isn’t subtle. That doesn’t make him innocent, it just makes him a bad co-conspirator.