Tuesday, December 12, 2017
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D. R. ZUKERMAN, proprietor

Did Jeff Sessions Signal Lukewarm Support for President Trump at his Nomination Hearing?

October 5, 2017 --

The lead story in The New York Times, January 11, 2017, reporting on the Senate Judiciary Committee's  hearing on the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions to be attorney general, carried this headline: 

Sessions Assures Senators
He Would Rein In Trump

The story, by Eric Lichtblau and Matt Apuzzo, began:  "Senator Jeff Sessions, President-elect Donald J. Trump's nominee for attorney general, pledged on Tuesday to 'say no' to Mr. Trump if he tries to go beyond the law...." 

The Times did not inform its readers that Sessions responded to this comment from committee chairman Charles Grassley:  

“Occasionally, you'll be called upon to offer an opinion to the president, who appointed you.  You'd have to tell him, yes or no. And sometimes presidents don't like to be told no. So I'd like to know, would you be able to stand up and say no to the president of the United States, if, in your judgment the law and your duty demands it?  And the reason I ask that, is because I know you work very  hard for the president-elect.”

Here is the response from Sessions:

“Mr. Chairman, I understand the importance of your question. I understand the responsibility of the attorney general, and I will do so. You simply have to help the president do things that he might desire in a lawful way and have to be able to say no, both for the country, for the legal system and for the president to avoid situations that are not acceptable. I understand that duty. I've observed it through my years and I will fulfill that responsibility.”

Chairman Grassley then asked Sessions: "Well, if you disagree with the president's chosen course of action, and you told him so and he intends to pursue that course of action anyway. What are you options at that point?"   

Sessions' response:

“Mr. Chairman, I think an attorney general should first, work with the President. Hopefully that attorney general would have the confidence of the president and avoid a situation that would be unacceptable.

“I do believe that if an attorney general is asked to do something that's plainly unlawful, he cannot participate in that--he or she--and that person would have to resign ultimately before agreeing to execute a policy that the attorney general would be an unlawful or unconstitutional. [sic]”

Sessions then continued:

I would say Mr. Chairman, if there are areas that are brightly clear and right, there are areas that may be gray and there are areas that are unacceptable, and a good attorney general needs to know where those lines are to help the president where possible and to resist improper, unacceptable actions.

The New York Times,  September 15, carried this front page (below the fold) headline:

Sessions, Shamed by President
Over Inquiry, Was Set to Resign

This news story article dredged up President Trump's displeasure with the appointment of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III as resulting from the attorney general's decision to step aside from the Justice Department's probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.   One wonders why the piece, referring to events last May, ran -- or was the Times concerned that anti-Trump steam generated by Russiagate and accusations over white supremacy were fading?

It is, of course, not to be expected that the Times would ever print a news story, column, editorial or letter to the editor wondering if  Mr. Sessions, in the course of his nomination hearing had  shamed President Trump by allowing that he might well direct Sessions "to execute" an "unlawful or unconstitutional" policy. It is difficult to imagine that an attorney general nominee of the defeated Hillary Clinton would have responded to Chairman Grassley as did Mr. Sessions with respect to the then-president elect.

(The transcript of the  Sessions nomination hearing reveals references by Democrat senators to intelligence claims of Russia's election meddling,  to climate change and to the very left Southern Poverty Law Center, among other matters,  The responses from the nominee seemed conciliatory.)