This was the week when Donald Trump finally got his wall.
No, Mexico didn’t pay for it; it’s not that wall. But Trump got the wall he really needed most — a rock-solid stonewall, built for him Tuesday by Alabama’s Jeff Sessions, who was the first U.S. senator to endorse Trump. Sessions was rewarded by becoming Trump’s attorney general; but it’s a reward that hasn’t always seemed so rewarding.
On Tuesday, Sessions raised his right hand and swore to tell the Senate Intelligence Committee the whole truth — but then mainly gave sworn non-testimony. Sessions stonewalled questions about him and Trump discussing contacts with Russia before, during or after Russia attacked America’s democracy with cyber weapons. He also rebuffed queries about why Trump really fired FBI Director James Comey, who was investigating all the above.
Sessions seems to have stonewalled the senators with two purposes: (1) to loyally protect his boss; and (2) in a desperate bid to save his own job (see 1).
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Here’s the background: Trump has reportedly been furious ever since Sessions recused himself from any role in the FBI’s Russia probe on the legally common-sense grounds that, since he was the chairman of the Trump campaign’s national security operation, he shouldn’t oversee or have any role in an investigation of himself. Trump couldn’t understand that.
So in the days before this week’s hearing, Trump calculatedly manipulated Sessions with the skill of a fine puppeteer, wiggling his hand up inside his toy doll, making it do what he wanted. Trump has always liked to publicly proclaim that he is all about loyalty. But ultimately,Trump is mainly all about Trump.
Day after day, prior to Sessions’ Senate appearance, Trump coldly refused to saywhether he still had confidence in Sessions as his attorney general. It was an act of presidential spanksmanship that went far beyond anything Washington has seen in the modern era.
Day after day, Sessions endured his embarrassment. Sessions reportedly offered to resign; Trump didn’t accept that. He had other plans. And on testimony day, Sessions sought to prove his loyalty by building Trump’s wall, stone by stone.
The well-orchestrated performance allowed Trump to avoid looking guilty of whatever by having to claim executive privilege to stop Sessions from testifying to anything the two of them might have discussed about this Russia thing. Or whether the real reason Trump fired the FBI chief was because he insisted on pursuing Team Trump’s Russia connections. So it really wasn’t because Comey blundered in his handling of Hillary Clinton’s emails, including when he publicly reopened the probe in the final days of the campaign, a move that surely helped Trump become president.
Sessions stonewalled. He flat-out refused to answer any questions about what he and Trump discussed — even though Trump wasn’t claiming executive privilege. Sessions just said he wanted to preserve his president’s right to later declare executive privilege. Democrats, surprised by Sessions’ ploy, could only howl at that parliamentary moon.
“I believe the American people have had it with stonewalling,” erupted Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, as his side’s questions were non-answered. “We are talking about an attack on our democratic institutions, and stonewalling of any kind is unacceptable.” See also, un-penetrable.
Sessions simply denied he was doing what he was doing: “I am not stonewalling. I am following the historic policies of the Department of Justice.” None of which he could cite.
Here’s how mind-boggling things got: At one point, Sessions insisted he had no info about contacts Trump’s fired national security adviser, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, had with Russians — when the whole world has seen that video of Flynn happily sitting beside Vladimir Putin at a Moscow banquet the Russians paid Flynn to attend.
Finally, it seems Alabama’s proud son may have earned the right to stay on as Trump’s attorney general. Loyal is as loyal does.
Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive.
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