When things are normal… Indeed, I open a lot of sentences with those words these days. When things are normal, it’s not uncommon for there to be some conflicts between different presidential appointees, sometimes a matter of policy disagreements, other times a matter of turf wars. It’s also not unheard of for there to be a rupture between a president and one of those appointees. But when there is such a rupture, the appointee typically resigns. That brings me to what’s very abnormal: it’s very abnormal for the president to be openly complaining about the actions of a cabinet officer and for that cabinet officer to remain on the job. That’s what we’re seeing now.
The gist of the famous memo by congressional Republicans is that the FBI acted improperly in its surveillance of one particular Trump associate during the campaigns (and before), Carter Page. So Jeff Sessions, attorney general and thus the FBI’s boss, is calling for an investigation. So far so good, but what has Trump riled up is who Sessions is trusting with the investigation: the Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz. Horowitz is an Obama appointee, but the position is not political (that is, it doesn’t automatically change when there’s a new president), and was also appointed to other posts by Republican president George W. Bush.
Trump sent out a tweet calling Sessions’ actions disgraceful.
Why hasn’t Sessions resigned long ago? What I’m about to say is not to be confused with implying that I like Jeff Sessions. But I think he has the orientation of being a responsible public servant, and like other Trump appointees, I think he inevitably sees the management of his department as a matter of damage control, that is, making sure it has a responsible public servant running it even though there’s the polar opposite of a responsible public servant running the country. (Quick review question: Does that mean that I like Jeff Sessions? Quick review answer: no sir and no ma’am.)
For a sitting president to be publicly calling his own attorney general’s actions disgraceful is extremely abnormal. But then again, we’re talking Trump. What’s abnormal for presidents in general is just another routine day at the office when you have Donald J. Trump for a president.