If there was one establishment figure in Washington who understood Trumpism, it was Jeff Sessions. But Sessions is also the Washington figure who most clearly paid a political price for not seeming loyal enough to President Trump.
The longtime senator from Alabama, like Trump, leaned hard on anti-immigrant policies. It made him something of an outsider in traditional Washington politics, but Trump and Sessions worked together to change that.
Sessions was the first senator to endorse Trump, choosing him over other candidates like his Senate colleague Ted Cruz (R-Tex.).
Trump was just a few months into his campaign when Sessions stood with him onstage, giving the candidate a boost of legitimacy from Washington. When Trump won the White House, Sessions was rewarded by being chosen as Trump’s attorney general. And Sessions in return tried to relentlessly hammer home the two men’s tough-on-immigration rhetoric and policies.
But the relationship went wrong over the question of loyalty, or rather the president’s perception of loyalty. Sessions lost a runoff in Alabama on Tuesday in an attempt to return to his old Senate seat, and Trump was cheering his loss on from Washington, after insulting Sessions or urging voters to ditch him nearly every step of the way. Former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville won the nomination and will try to unseat Democrats’ most vulnerable senator in November, Doug Jones.
Trump has been humiliating Sessions for years, actually, even while Sessions was still his attorney general. The president seemed to view the prominent Cabinet position as one designed to protect him rather than to be the nation’s top law enforcement officer. Perhaps Trump was helped along by the fact that his attorney general was such a close political ally. Or perhaps Trump views key aspects of government as a means to the end of supporting him — a pattern we’ve seen since.
Trump felt he needed the most protection from the Department of Justice on an FBI investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and any ties to his campaign — and he believed Sessions wasn’t there for him. Sessions had recused himself from overseeing the investigation because he played such a prominent role in the Trump campaign and had visited with the Russian ambassador during it.
Shortly after that, Trump fired the FBI director, and shortly after that, Sessions’s No. 2 appointed a special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, to take on the investigation. Trump uttered an expletive when he found out, according to Mueller’s report.
The Mueller report says Trump immediately turned his anger to Sessions. Trump later told the New York Times, “Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else.”
And the president spent more than a year insulting Sessions on Twitter, even making Sessions’s former Republican colleagues in the Senate uncomfortable with the public humiliation, before firing him and then doing what he could to make sure Sessions never came back to Washington.
Sessions will be back as a lobbyist emeritus I'm sure, but his political career has ended with all the ignominy he deserved. He could have kept his Senate seat for another two terms, I'm sure. Now? He'll be lucky to end up on a sinecure masthead somewhere if not retiring.
Donald Trump destroyed him, and Sessions allowed it to happen.