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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ed Kilgore

March 17: Maybe Trump Can Save Travel Ban, But It Won’t Be Easy

Having watched the legal maneuvering around the Trump administration’s first, poorly written travel ban, I was on notice for challenges to the new, improved executive order. And they did come from several directions, as I noted at New York:

[D]espite a major revision of the order to “fix” problems the courts found in the initial action, not one but two federal district judges, in two widely separated judicial circuits, have put it on hold.

Worse yet, in both cases (Judge Derrick Watson in Hawaii, and Judge Theodore Chuang in Maryland) the problem the judges identified was not something any revision could likely “cure”: It is the claim that the whole process is just a thinly veiled effort to implement a blatantly unconstitutional “Muslim ban,” as evidenced by Donald Trump’s own proposals during the presidential campaign.

So what’s an “America First” president to do?

The most prudent course of action might well be to forget about the temporary travel ban and move on as quickly as possible to the new system for vetting applicants for visas and for refugee status the ban was supposed to give the administration time to develop. Max Zapotsky explains:

“The administration was supposed to have been working on that review the first time around, but with a new order came new deadlines. Although it probably wants to win in court to avoid an authority-curtailing precedent …the administration could simply finish its review and implement new vetting procedures that did not impose an outright ban. That might make the litigation moot.”

This approach, of course, would involve surrender to the “so-called judges” who have stood in Trump’s way, so that is very unlikely, particularly after Trump devoted ten fiery minutes at a rally in Nashville last night attacking the “judicial overreach” and threatening to bring back the original, broader order.

That idea probably occurred to Trump (or someone in TrumpLand) because in something of a coincidence the full Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decided yesterday not to vacate the earlier order on the first travel ban (issued by a three-judge panel) denying the administration a go-ahead on national-security grounds. In dissent, five judges said the courts should have deferred to the president’s national-security authority the first time around. So there is some conservative judicial support for that proposition, even on the “liberal” Ninth Circuit.

But again: These were dissenters, and the odds are very low the full Ninth Circuit or any particular three-judge panel of same will reach that conclusion if and when the administration appeals Watson’s ruling. In agreeing to make the revision, the White House was implicitly conceding it did some pretty sloppy work back in January. Though Trump’s ego might want a total vindication, it’s not likely to succeed unless the Supreme Court intervenes on his behalf after some additional judicial setbacks.

The more conventional approach would be to stick with the revision and instead go after the finding that Trump’s (and Rudy Giuliani’s) comments on the campaign trail are relevant to what he is trying to do as president. At Lawfare this morning, Peter Margulies argues the administration will eventually prevail on that point.

But it might take a while, and involve a long and winding road to the Supreme Court. Knocking down Watson’s order will take the government through the obviously not very sympathetic Ninth Circuit. And even if they succeed, there’s Chuang’s order, which applies only to the visa application portions of the travel ban (because that’s all the plaintiffs in the case were challenging). Overturning that order means going through the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Assuming the case does get to the Supreme Court, timing would be a big issue. For one thing, the Court is currently shorthanded. If, however, the administration waits to make its pitch for SCOTUS intervention until Trump’s nominee Neil Gorsuch is confirmed, that could make for additional delay. Since the official position of the White House is that terrorists are likely pouring over the borders and into the airports every moment the travel ban is not in place, a posture of accepting delays doesn’t make a lot of sense.

What we are probably facing, then, is a murky and complicated schedule of legal maneuverings punctuated occasionally by judge-bashing explosions from the president of the United States. It may not be the smartest way for him to get his way, but for a man whose main fear in life seems to be the appearance of looking “weak” (his frequently expressed concern about the travel-ban delays), it may be the only way Donald Trump can handle it.

I feel sorry for his lawyers.


Maybe Trump Can Save Travel Ban, But It Won’t Be Easy

Having watched the legal maneuvering around the Trump administration’s first, poorly written travel ban, I was on notice for challenges to the new, improved executive order. And they did come from several directions, as I noted at New York:

[D]espite a major revision of the order to “fix” problems the courts found in the initial action, not one but two federal district judges, in two widely separated judicial circuits, have put it on hold.

Worse yet, in both cases (Judge Derrick Watson in Hawaii, and Judge Theodore Chuang in Maryland) the problem the judges identified was not something any revision could likely “cure”: It is the claim that the whole process is just a thinly veiled effort to implement a blatantly unconstitutional “Muslim ban,” as evidenced by Donald Trump’s own proposals during the presidential campaign.

So what’s an “America First” president to do?

The most prudent course of action might well be to forget about the temporary travel ban and move on as quickly as possible to the new system for vetting applicants for visas and for refugee status the ban was supposed to give the administration time to develop. Max Zapotsky explains:

“The administration was supposed to have been working on that review the first time around, but with a new order came new deadlines. Although it probably wants to win in court to avoid an authority-curtailing precedent …the administration could simply finish its review and implement new vetting procedures that did not impose an outright ban. That might make the litigation moot.”

This approach, of course, would involve surrender to the “so-called judges” who have stood in Trump’s way, so that is very unlikely, particularly after Trump devoted ten fiery minutes at a rally in Nashville last night attacking the “judicial overreach” and threatening to bring back the original, broader order.

That idea probably occurred to Trump (or someone in TrumpLand) because in something of a coincidence the full Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decided yesterday not to vacate the earlier order on the first travel ban (issued by a three-judge panel) denying the administration a go-ahead on national-security grounds. In dissent, five judges said the courts should have deferred to the president’s national-security authority the first time around. So there is some conservative judicial support for that proposition, even on the “liberal” Ninth Circuit.

But again: These were dissenters, and the odds are very low the full Ninth Circuit or any particular three-judge panel of same will reach that conclusion if and when the administration appeals Watson’s ruling. In agreeing to make the revision, the White House was implicitly conceding it did some pretty sloppy work back in January. Though Trump’s ego might want a total vindication, it’s not likely to succeed unless the Supreme Court intervenes on his behalf after some additional judicial setbacks.

The more conventional approach would be to stick with the revision and instead go after the finding that Trump’s (and Rudy Giuliani’s) comments on the campaign trail are relevant to what he is trying to do as president. At Lawfare this morning, Peter Margulies argues the administration will eventually prevail on that point.

But it might take a while, and involve a long and winding road to the Supreme Court. Knocking down Watson’s order will take the government through the obviously not very sympathetic Ninth Circuit. And even if they succeed, there’s Chuang’s order, which applies only to the visa application portions of the travel ban (because that’s all the plaintiffs in the case were challenging). Overturning that order means going through the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Assuming the case does get to the Supreme Court, timing would be a big issue. For one thing, the Court is currently shorthanded. If, however, the administration waits to make its pitch for SCOTUS intervention until Trump’s nominee Neil Gorsuch is confirmed, that could make for additional delay. Since the official position of the White House is that terrorists are likely pouring over the borders and into the airports every moment the travel ban is not in place, a posture of accepting delays doesn’t make a lot of sense.

What we are probably facing, then, is a murky and complicated schedule of legal maneuverings punctuated occasionally by judge-bashing explosions from the president of the United States. It may not be the smartest way for him to get his way, but for a man whose main fear in life seems to be the appearance of looking “weak” (his frequently expressed concern about the travel-ban delays), it may be the only way Donald Trump can handle it.

I feel sorry for his lawyers.


March 16: Trump Budget a Throwback

After looking at the outline released today of Donald Trump’s first budget, I kept getting a sense of deja vu. I explained why at New York.

The conservative lobbying group Heritage Action greeted Donald Trump’s first budget (really a budget outline; the full details will come later) with the headline: TRUMP’S BIG LEAGUE CONSERVATIVE BUDGET REQUEST. That’s an appropriate take, and not just because the group’s parent organization, the Heritage Foundation, has left fingerprints all over the proposal, hastily assembled by a less than complete OMB staff. It is, in many respects, a sort of “greatest hits” compilation of conservative prescriptions for paying for a big defense-spending increase with targeted and general cuts in nondefense discretionary programs — domestic spending that is not in one of the big entitlement programs.

The fact that it’s all wrapped up in the bristling “America First” language of nationalist “populism” — with a few distinctive flourishes like a truly neanderthal attack on the State Department that takes one back to the McCarthy era — should not distract from the fact that this is a very conventionally conservative budget prepared by the very conventionally conservative OMB director Mick Mulvaney.

Those who remember the budget wars of the Reagan era will find a lot of blasts from the past in the list of agencies and programs Mulvaney is proposing to shutter entirely: the Appalachian Regional Commission, Community Development Block Grants, the Economic Development Administration, the Legal Services Corporation, Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation — all were surviving targets of Reagan’s first budget in 1981. Other targets are products of the later culture wars: federal funding of the arts and culture would be basically eliminated, with the closure of the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. And still other programs Team Trump seeks to kill involve initiatives associated closely with Democratic presidents, such as the Corporation for National and Community Service (including Bill Clinton’s signature AmeriCorps program) and Barack Obama’s various clean-energy and climate-change initiatives.

Along with the individual constituencies affected, it’s reasonably clear state and local governments will be unhappy with the budget, as they have been unhappy with most Republican presidential budgets over the years. Again and again in Mulvaney’s document you see reductions or eliminations of small grant programs justified as being things states and localities should pay for themselves. And that’s aside from the big-ticket cuts like EPA grants and CDBG (the last significant source of general-purpose funding for local governments).

Another notable and familiar feature of the budget is what you might call cannibalization: Within major agencies Trump priorities are funded by cuts in things his people don’t know or care about. That’s how you wind up with an “America First” budget that hammers a variety of Department of Homeland Defense programs (including the Coast Guard, TSA, and FEMA) in order to shower money on the Wall and border control….

[T]he Trump budget’s fate will mostly fall to the Appropriations committees, those notoriously picky barons who tend to reject executive-branch dictation over “their” programs. It’s appropriators and their staffs who are already out there declaring Mulvaney’s handiwork “dead on arrival.”

And that’s probably okay with Team Trump, which seems to be using the whole budget exercise to send messages rather than to get anything done. Mulvaney in effect took off the green eyeshade of the budget wonk and put on his MAGA hat — maybe a military version in khaki — in describing the budget:

“It is not a soft-power budget. This is a hard-power budget, and that was done intentionally. The president very clearly wants to send a message to our allies and to our potential adversaries that this is a strong-power administration.”

Yep, it’s a Big League Conservative Budget Request, and like many others, it should be taken with a shaker of salt.


Trump Budget a Throwback

After looking at the outline released today of Donald Trump’s first budget, I kept getting a sense of deja vu. I explained why at New York.

The conservative lobbying group Heritage Action greeted Donald Trump’s first budget (really a budget outline; the full details will come later) with the headline: TRUMP’S BIG LEAGUE CONSERVATIVE BUDGET REQUEST. That’s an appropriate take, and not just because the group’s parent organization, the Heritage Foundation, has left fingerprints all over the proposal, hastily assembled by a less than complete OMB staff. It is, in many respects, a sort of “greatest hits” compilation of conservative prescriptions for paying for a big defense-spending increase with targeted and general cuts in nondefense discretionary programs — domestic spending that is not in one of the big entitlement programs.

The fact that it’s all wrapped up in the bristling “America First” language of nationalist “populism” — with a few distinctive flourishes like a truly neanderthal attack on the State Department that takes one back to the McCarthy era — should not distract from the fact that this is a very conventionally conservative budget prepared by the very conventionally conservative OMB director Mick Mulvaney.

Those who remember the budget wars of the Reagan era will find a lot of blasts from the past in the list of agencies and programs Mulvaney is proposing to shutter entirely: the Appalachian Regional Commission, Community Development Block Grants, the Economic Development Administration, the Legal Services Corporation, Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation — all were surviving targets of Reagan’s first budget in 1981. Other targets are products of the later culture wars: federal funding of the arts and culture would be basically eliminated, with the closure of the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. And still other programs Team Trump seeks to kill involve initiatives associated closely with Democratic presidents, such as the Corporation for National and Community Service (including Bill Clinton’s signature AmeriCorps program) and Barack Obama’s various clean-energy and climate-change initiatives.

Along with the individual constituencies affected, it’s reasonably clear state and local governments will be unhappy with the budget, as they have been unhappy with most Republican presidential budgets over the years. Again and again in Mulvaney’s document you see reductions or eliminations of small grant programs justified as being things states and localities should pay for themselves. And that’s aside from the big-ticket cuts like EPA grants and CDBG (the last significant source of general-purpose funding for local governments).

Another notable and familiar feature of the budget is what you might call cannibalization: Within major agencies Trump priorities are funded by cuts in things his people don’t know or care about. That’s how you wind up with an “America First” budget that hammers a variety of Department of Homeland Defense programs (including the Coast Guard, TSA, and FEMA) in order to shower money on the Wall and border control….

[T]he Trump budget’s fate will mostly fall to the Appropriations committees, those notoriously picky barons who tend to reject executive-branch dictation over “their” programs. It’s appropriators and their staffs who are already out there declaring Mulvaney’s handiwork “dead on arrival.”

And that’s probably okay with Team Trump, which seems to be using the whole budget exercise to send messages rather than to get anything done. Mulvaney in effect took off the green eyeshade of the budget wonk and put on his MAGA hat — maybe a military version in khaki — in describing the budget:

“It is not a soft-power budget. This is a hard-power budget, and that was done intentionally. The president very clearly wants to send a message to our allies and to our potential adversaries that this is a strong-power administration.”

Yep, it’s a Big League Conservative Budget Request, and like many others, it should be taken with a shaker of salt.


March 10: “So-Called” Judges Still a Threat To Revised Trump Travel Ban

The revised Trump travel ban released this week addresses a lot of the original order’s legal problems. But it’s still haunted by the suspicion it’s really just a “Muslim ban,” as I noted at New York:

Seattle-based federal District Court Judge James Robart — famously called a “so-called judge” by the president of the United States for putting a hold on the Trump administration’s hasty and sloppy travel-ban executive order — will be back in the spotlight again, as a revised travel ban receives judicial scrutiny. Three states (original travel-ban petitioner Washington, plus New York and Oregon) are asking Robart to rule that his original suspension applies to the new order as well.

Washington attorney general Bob Ferguson, who announced the new petition, does not seem to care about the administration’s assertions that it took care of the problems that snarled its earlier travel ban. “The court decides that, not the president,” he said.

“Ferguson and other state lawyers said they believe the burden is on the government to convince a judge that the freeze should not be in effect, rather than the other way around.”

If Robart agrees, there will at least be another round of hearings in federal court. Whether Trump explodes at this George W. Bush appointee then, or waits to see what he ultimately decides to do, will be an interesting question that could threaten the “presidential” image he conveyed in his speech to Congress last week.

In any event, Robart will have a chance to weigh in before a colleague in Hawaii holds a hearing next Wednesday on a parallel suit by the State of Hawaii. In both suits, the key issue will likely be whether the first or the second travel ban represents nothing more than a fig leaf for an unconstitutional ban on Muslims.

And it’s another reason to watch the news, and Trump’s Twitter feed, over the weekend.


“So-Called” Judges Still a Threat to Revised Trump Travel Ban

The revised Trump travel ban released this week addresses a lot of the original order’s legal problems. But it’s still haunted by the suspicion it’s really just a “Muslim ban,” as I noted at New York:

Seattle-based federal District Court Judge James Robart — famously called a “so-called judge” by the president of the United States for putting a hold on the Trump administration’s hasty and sloppy travel-ban executive order — will be back in the spotlight again, as a revised travel ban receives judicial scrutiny. Three states (original travel-ban petitioner Washington, plus New York and Oregon) are asking Robart to rule that his original suspension applies to the new order as well.

Washington attorney general Bob Ferguson, who announced the new petition, does not seem to care about the administration’s assertions that it took care of the problems that snarled its earlier travel ban. “The court decides that, not the president,” he said.

“Ferguson and other state lawyers said they believe the burden is on the government to convince a judge that the freeze should not be in effect, rather than the other way around.”

If Robart agrees, there will at least be another round of hearings in federal court. Whether Trump explodes at this George W. Bush appointee then, or waits to see what he ultimately decides to do, will be an interesting question that could threaten the “presidential” image he conveyed in his speech to Congress last week.

In any event, Robart will have a chance to weigh in before a colleague in Hawaii holds a hearing next Wednesday on a parallel suit by the State of Hawaii. In both suits, the key issue will likely be whether the first or the second travel ban represents nothing more than a fig leaf for an unconstitutional ban on Muslims.

And it’s another reason to watch the news, and Trump’s Twitter feed, over the weekend.


March 9: Republicans Prepare To Fire the Scorekeepers to Save Trumpcare

The amazing dumpster fire over the new Republican health care plan had a sudden burst of deceptive heat and light as the GOP began to defend the bill against its actual consequences. I explained at New York.

There have been a lot of raised eyebrows about congressional Republicans rushing out an Obamacare repeal-and-replace bill before it could be “scored” — that is, evaluated for its impact on federal spending and revenues and health-care coverage — by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Generally, CBO scoring would be a foundational step before trying to advance legislation significantly overhauling an industry that constitutes 20 percent of the national economy. One reason for the hastiness is that Republicans wanted to get something out there before its members go home for a long and potentially protest-filled Easter recess and perhaps come back gun-shy. Another is that they are on a self-imposed (and potentially self-imploding) timetable to get health care out of the way so they can deal with other legislative priorities, including a giant tax-cut bill.

But it is the third reason for not waiting on CBO that is looking most compelling right now: Republicans are terrified that CBO’s numbers will paint a disastrous picture of the American Health Care Act’s impact. The bill has problems enough without being described by Congress’s own hirelings as a bill that blows up budget deficits, throws many millions of people out of their health insurance, and, perhaps most importantly, undermines the tax cuts and defense-spending increases Republicans are itching to enact by setting a baseline that already looks bad.

Indeed, as Jennifer Haberkorn reports, there is so much Republican angst over what CBO might say that there is a sudden barrage of advance criticism of the agency, which is likely to reveal its score later this week or early next week:

“Anticipating that their plan will leave fewer Americans insured than Obamacare and potentially cost the federal government more, Republican leaders on Tuesday launched a preemptory strike against forthcoming predictions from Congress’s independent scorekeeper, the Congressional Budget Office.”

When former House Speaker Newt Gingrich called for the abolition of CBO back in January, most observers probably chuckled at the old bomb-thrower insisting that an objective assessment of GOP plans would screw everything up. Now that’s rapidly becoming the conventional wisdom. Keep in mind that Republicans, after taking control of both congressional chambers in 2014, hired CBO’s current director, George W. Bush administration veteran Keith Hall. It’s safe to say that Hall hardly resembles Gingrich’s description of CBO as a “left-wing, corrupt, bureaucratic defender of big government and liberalism.”

So what’s the solution? Republicans seem to have found an alternative source of authoritative-sounding numbers that is more ideologically reliable: the Office of Management and Budget, which is directly under the control of the president:

“Republicans are going so far as releasing their own estimates. The Office of Management and Budget, part of the Trump White House, is expected to issue its own estimates of the plan, according to several Republican senators.”

This helps explain why Trump’s OMB director, Mick Mulvaney, is suddenly being described as a “player” in the GOP’s very crowded health-care-policy arena. As budget maven Stan Collender pointed out when Gingrich proposed eliminating CBO, such a step would quite literally turn the clock back to those pre-1974 days when OMB was the only “scoring” entity, and Congress had no independent source of information. In the end Congress can use whatever numbers it chooses. But trying to boost the credibility of its agenda by cooking the books is probably not going to be a very persuasive approach.

One would normally think Mulvaney had enough on his plate — developing Trump’s first budget, for example — without having to leap into the middle of the health-care fray. That’s how panicked Republicans have become by the consequences of their shoddy work on repealing and replacing Obamacare. It’s one thing to work the refs when you are in danger of losing a game. It’s another thing altogether to fire and replace the scorekeeper while the ball’s in play.


Republicans Prepare to Fire the Scorekeepers To Save Trumpcare

The amazing dumpster fire over the new Republican health care plan had a sudden burst of deceptive heat and light as the GOP began to defend the bill against its actual consequences. I explained at New York.

There have been a lot of raised eyebrows about congressional Republicans rushing out an Obamacare repeal-and-replace bill before it could be “scored” — that is, evaluated for its impact on federal spending and revenues and health-care coverage — by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Generally, CBO scoring would be a foundational step before trying to advance legislation significantly overhauling an industry that constitutes 20 percent of the national economy. One reason for the hastiness is that Republicans wanted to get something out there before its members go home for a long and potentially protest-filled Easter recess and perhaps come back gun-shy. Another is that they are on a self-imposed (and potentially self-imploding) timetable to get health care out of the way so they can deal with other legislative priorities, including a giant tax-cut bill.

But it is the third reason for not waiting on CBO that is looking most compelling right now: Republicans are terrified that CBO’s numbers will paint a disastrous picture of the American Health Care Act’s impact. The bill has problems enough without being described by Congress’s own hirelings as a bill that blows up budget deficits, throws many millions of people out of their health insurance, and, perhaps most importantly, undermines the tax cuts and defense-spending increases Republicans are itching to enact by setting a baseline that already looks bad.

Indeed, as Jennifer Haberkorn reports, there is so much Republican angst over what CBO might say that there is a sudden barrage of advance criticism of the agency, which is likely to reveal its score later this week or early next week:

“Anticipating that their plan will leave fewer Americans insured than Obamacare and potentially cost the federal government more, Republican leaders on Tuesday launched a preemptory strike against forthcoming predictions from Congress’s independent scorekeeper, the Congressional Budget Office.”

When former House Speaker Newt Gingrich called for the abolition of CBO back in January, most observers probably chuckled at the old bomb-thrower insisting that an objective assessment of GOP plans would screw everything up. Now that’s rapidly becoming the conventional wisdom. Keep in mind that Republicans, after taking control of both congressional chambers in 2014, hired CBO’s current director, George W. Bush administration veteran Keith Hall. It’s safe to say that Hall hardly resembles Gingrich’s description of CBO as a “left-wing, corrupt, bureaucratic defender of big government and liberalism.”

So what’s the solution? Republicans seem to have found an alternative source of authoritative-sounding numbers that is more ideologically reliable: the Office of Management and Budget, which is directly under the control of the president:

“Republicans are going so far as releasing their own estimates. The Office of Management and Budget, part of the Trump White House, is expected to issue its own estimates of the plan, according to several Republican senators.”

This helps explain why Trump’s OMB director, Mick Mulvaney, is suddenly being described as a “player” in the GOP’s very crowded health-care-policy arena. As budget maven Stan Collender pointed out when Gingrich proposed eliminating CBO, such a step would quite literally turn the clock back to those pre-1974 days when OMB was the only “scoring” entity, and Congress had no independent source of information. In the end Congress can use whatever numbers it chooses. But trying to boost the credibility of its agenda by cooking the books is probably not going to be a very persuasive approach.

One would normally think Mulvaney had enough on his plate — developing Trump’s first budget, for example — without having to leap into the middle of the health-care fray. That’s how panicked Republicans have become by the consequences of their shoddy work on repealing and replacing Obamacare. It’s one thing to work the refs when you are in danger of losing a game. It’s another thing altogether to fire and replace the scorekeeper while the ball’s in play.


March 3: So Much for Sessions’ Integrity

When the revelation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ undisclosed meetings with the Russian ambassador broke, I did this instant reaction for New York. Nothing that’s happened subsequently changed my opinion:

The revelation that then-Senator Jeff Sessions did not disclose two conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States when asked about such contacts during his confirmation hearings may or may not expose him to a perjury charge. Perjury is a rarely prosecuted crime, and it is unclear who would be in a position to prosecute the man who now heads up the federal government’s machinery of justice.

But there’s the rub: Should anyone willing to lie under oath — or even play shyster word games with the truth in a unquestionably mendacious effort to hide contacts with a foreign government suspected of tampering with a presidential election — continue as chief law enforcement officer of the United States? That is the question that will be asked many times in the days just ahead.

And in the specific case of Jeff Sessions, the damage to his reputation from this disclosure could be even worse. He is, after all, a self-styled Mr. Law-and-Order, whose supposed respect for the rule of law is so unshakable that it leads him to turn a cold shoulder to those who would lighten the sentences of low-level drug offenders or provide a path to citizenship for people who entered the country illegally. During his confirmation hearings and the debate in the Senate, Sessions’s friends again and again cited his “integrity” as so unquestionable that those alleging impure motives on his part during his days as a federal prosector were guilty of slander and even character assassination. The notion that Sessions’s reputation for integrity was the crown jewel of his career was also the basis for Mitch McConnell’s extraordinary action in silencing Elizabeth Warren for trying to read a letter from the late Coretta Scott King challenging his self-characterization as an evenhanded enforcer of civil-rights laws.

McConnell himself went to great lengths to reinforce the argument that whatever one thought of Sessions’s politics and policy positions, his straight-arrow awe for the law made it all good.

“It’s been tough to watch all this good man has been put through in recent weeks. This is a well-qualified colleague with a deep reverence for the law.”

Well, maybe not so much in the equal application of the law to himself.

Under pressure from Republicans as well as Democrats in Congress, Sessions has agreed to recuse himself from any investigation of possibly inappropriate discussions between the Trump campaign and Russian officials or agents. But even if nothing more comes out about his contacts with the Russian embassy or what went through his mind when he chose not to forthrightly answer questions about such contacts, Sessions is now seriously damaged goods after all the endless and interminable and redundant assurances he and his friends have made about his spotless honesty and love for the majesty of the law. He should have told the whole truth during his confirmation hearings. That’s the simple proposition that all the finger-pointing and blame-shifting his allies try to utilize to get him out of this self-imposed jam cannot obscure.

Whether or not he keeps his job, Sessions’ reputation for probity is gone for good.


So Much For Sessions’ Integrity

When the revelation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ undisclosed meetings with the Russian ambassador broke, I did this instant reaction for New York. Nothing that’s happened subsequently changed my opinion:

The revelation that then-Senator Jeff Sessions did not disclose two conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States when asked about such contacts during his confirmation hearings may or may not expose him to a perjury charge. Perjury is a rarely prosecuted crime, and it is unclear who would be in a position to prosecute the man who now heads up the federal government’s machinery of justice.

But there’s the rub: Should anyone willing to lie under oath — or even play shyster word games with the truth in a unquestionably mendacious effort to hide contacts with a foreign government suspected of tampering with a presidential election — continue as chief law enforcement officer of the United States? That is the question that will be asked many times in the days just ahead.

And in the specific case of Jeff Sessions, the damage to his reputation from this disclosure could be even worse. He is, after all, a self-styled Mr. Law-and-Order, whose supposed respect for the rule of law is so unshakable that it leads him to turn a cold shoulder to those who would lighten the sentences of low-level drug offenders or provide a path to citizenship for people who entered the country illegally. During his confirmation hearings and the debate in the Senate, Sessions’s friends again and again cited his “integrity” as so unquestionable that those alleging impure motives on his part during his days as a federal prosector were guilty of slander and even character assassination. The notion that Sessions’s reputation for integrity was the crown jewel of his career was also the basis for Mitch McConnell’s extraordinary action in silencing Elizabeth Warren for trying to read a letter from the late Coretta Scott King challenging his self-characterization as an evenhanded enforcer of civil-rights laws.

McConnell himself went to great lengths to reinforce the argument that whatever one thought of Sessions’s politics and policy positions, his straight-arrow awe for the law made it all good.

“It’s been tough to watch all this good man has been put through in recent weeks. This is a well-qualified colleague with a deep reverence for the law.”

Well, maybe not so much in the equal application of the law to himself.

Under pressure from Republicans as well as Democrats in Congress, Sessions has agreed to recuse himself from any investigation of possibly inappropriate discussions between the Trump campaign and Russian officials or agents. But even if nothing more comes out about his contacts with the Russian embassy or what went through his mind when he chose not to forthrightly answer questions about such contacts, Sessions is now seriously damaged goods after all the endless and interminable and redundant assurances he and his friends have made about his spotless honesty and love for the majesty of the law. He should have told the whole truth during his confirmation hearings. That’s the simple proposition that all the finger-pointing and blame-shifting his allies try to utilize to get him out of this self-imposed jam cannot obscure.

Whether or not he keeps his job, Sessions’ reputation for probity is gone for good.