Jeff Sessions Can’t Remember Whether He Was Involved in Firing All the US Attorneys

One of the things that came out of Jeff Sessions’ testimony last Thursday was the news — elicited by Richard Blumenthal — that President Trump had personally interviewed candidates for two US Attorney positions, those in SDNY and EDNY, which was taken as a sign Trump wanted to install cronies in the districts that oversee most of his (and his family’s) activities.

But there was a counterpart exchange at the hearing that was, particularly because of Sessions’ inability to answer it, just as stunning.

After Mazie Hirono handed Sessions his ass for attacking a judge in HI for issuing a nationwide injunction, she then asked him who was involved in the decision to fire all the US Attorneys all at once.

Hirono: Who was involved in the decision to dismiss all of the US Attorneys without any warning. And why was it done when it was done?

At first Sessions just filibustered — Clinton Clinton Clinton.

Sessions: [stumped] We had gone for a number of months, about half of the United States Attorneys had already resigned, it’s traditional that they’re replaced by the next Administration, and President [pause] I believe President Clinton did the same, issued a single order, precedent, there’s precedent for it to complete the process of changeover.

So then Hirono asked what I imagine is the point: whether Trump made the decision entirely on his own.

Hirono: So it was totally President Trump who made that decision? You were not involved in that decision?

Sessions: I, I believe the responsibility is the President’s.

Hirono: You were not involved in that decision to fire them all?

But then when she double checks whether that’s true, he realizes he’s about to get his boss in a whole heap of trouble, and — literally mid-question!! — turns to ask a staffer what the correct answer is.

Sessions: Actually, actually, I think the Att —

[Sessions stops mid-sentence to talk to a staffer behind him]

Only after consulting the staffer did Sessions “remember” being involved in the decision.

Sessions: I can’t re — I can’t believe I can’t remember that. But it was an important issue. The President appoints United States Attorneys, and it was appropriate, I thought at that time to make the change.

Hirono: So you were involved?

Sessions: Yes, I was involved.

Thus far, the exchange is remarkable enough.

All the more so when you look back at the reporting from when it occurred, in early March. As NYT reported, it was a surprise to all the US Attorneys asked to leave.

The Trump administration moved on Friday to sweep away most of the remaining vestiges of Obama administration prosecutors at the Justice Department, ordering 46 holdover United States attorneys to tender their resignations immediately — including Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan.

The firings were a surprise — especially for Mr. Bharara, who has a reputation for prosecuting public corruption cases and for investigating insider trading. In November, Mr. Bharara met with then President-elect Donald J. Trump at Trump Tower in Manhattan and told reporters afterward that both Mr. Trump and Jeff Sessions, who is now the attorney general, had asked him about staying on, which the prosecutor said he expected to do.

But on Friday, Mr. Bharara was among federal prosecutors who received a call from Dana Boente, the acting deputy attorney general, instructing him to resign, according to a person familiar with the matter.

And it was an apparent reversal from an earlier plan.

The abrupt mass firing appeared to be a change in plans for the administration, according to a statement by Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“In January, I met with Vice President Pence and White House Counsel Donald McGahn and asked specifically whether all U.S. attorneys would be fired at once,” she said. “Mr. McGahn told me that the transition would be done in an orderly fashion to preserve continuity. Clearly this is not the case. I’m very concerned about the effect of this sudden and unexpected decision on federal law enforcement.”

A statement from DOJ spox Sarah Isgur Flores does attribute the decision to Sessions.

“The Attorney General has now asked the remaining 46 presidentially appointed U.S. Attorneys to tender their resignations in order to ensure a uniform transition.”

But Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente (one of just two to keep his job right away), not Sessions, made the calls to the US Attorneys.

In other words, it seems possible that Sessions really wasn’t involved, but he has to pretend to be, so that the decision to fire (especially) Preet Bharara doesn’t appear to be something Trump did on his own, partly in response to badgering from Sean Hannity.

In other words, this later exchange from the same hearing suggests that Trump first unilaterally fired all the US Attorneys, which even at the time was interpreted as an effort to fire one in particular, and now is exercising more control over his replacement than any President ever has before. Only, Sessions managed to remember being involved just in time to make that clear.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

8 replies
  1. Rapier says:

    If there is one thing to know about what is understood to be Southern Culture it is that, and you can look it up. there was a distinct difference in the politics and cultural ideals between which Englishmen went where in America, North or South. In general one of the hallmarks of the Southern ‘Cavalier’ culture was the idea of personal honor. Public verbal affronts  often demanded a physical confrontation to defend ones honor.  Formal gun duels were part  of this.

    So we have Jeff Sessions, the self declared champion of old Southern culture, quietly accepting the most of extreme sort of public, and private evidently, verbal humiliation from Trump and what does he do. Essentially he says, thank you sir can I have another. It’s really and unbelievable thing. Jeff Session, erstwhile champion of Southern Culture, and subservient boot licker,  Go figure.

  2. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Who’s the empty barrel?

    This administration has several candidates from among current and former officials and once-upon-a-time candidates, among which would be Trump, DeVos and Perry.  But Jeff Sessions earns a top spot.  Ms. Wilson, with her Ph.D., celebrated career, and decades of volunteerism, would not be on anyone’s short list – except former general turned politician and street fighter John Kelly.  Smedley Butler would not be surprised or proud.

     

  3. NorskieFlamethrower says:

    And the system is working just the way those Enlightenment Southern gentleman wannabes wanted it to, thank you very much. From the second amendment through the pardon powers, the system is working to protect and secure the remnants of the old slaveocracy. And the control of the purse strings  of federal expenditures by  Southern reactionaries has been goin’ on since the first Congress.

      • NorskieFlamethrower says:

        Been busy playin’ extended family for 5 granddaughters  while their moms and dads are out fightin’ the good fight in classrooms and in the streets.  I really miss the old community of Firedoglake, have you stayed in touch with any of the old group?

         

  4. SpaceLifeForm says:

    OT: KRACK, WPA2, VEP, NSA, BADDECISION, FOXACID

    http://www.zdnet.com/google-amp/article/nsa-krack-vulnerability-security-experts/

    A spokesperson for the NSA declined to comment when reached, though the agency’s own Information Assurance Directorate issued an advisory Wednesday warning of the vulnerability.

    The agency’s lack of response isn’t all that surprising given that the agency almost never comments on matters of intelligence or national security, but it’s hardly likely to dampen rumors that the NSA knew something about the vulnerability in the WPA2 wireless security protocol, which was revealed this week.

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