scorecardThe right is turning on Jeff Sessions - and he might be getting 'a raw deal'
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The right is turning on Jeff Sessions - and he might be getting 'a raw deal'

The right is turning on Jeff Sessions - and he might be getting 'a raw deal'
PoliticsPolitics5 min read

Jeff Sessions

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Jeff Sessions.

  • Attorney General Jeff Sessions is under fire from the right.
  • President Donald Trump, some of his most fervent supporters, and right-wing figures are upset that Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation and has not further investigated 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
  • One former White House official says he thinks Sessions is "getting a bit of a raw deal."

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a methodical approach toward enacting a staunchly conservative agenda as the head of the justice system for the past 10 months.

He's ramped up immigration enforcement and begun new fights against drugs and gangs. He's rolled back Obama administration-era policies on gay rights, voting rights, and criminal justice and police reforms. The Justice Department is perhaps most forcefully carrying out the agenda paraded by President Donald Trump for over a year on the campaign trail.

But no one member of Trump's Cabinet has faced more ire than Sessions - both from Trump and his allies. He has been stuck in the doghouse ever since, in March, he recused himself from all matters related to the campaign and, by proxy, Russia-related investigations. And more recently, he has been targeted for not pushing harder for another investigation into 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

"I think Jeff Sessions is one of the greatest disappointments of Trump's Cabinet," Ned Ryun, CEO of the conservative grassroots organization American Majority, said on Fox News following Sessions' recent testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. "He should've never recused himself, and if he was going to, then he should've refused the appointment."

"Sessions is a big disappointment," conservative Boston radio host Jeff Kuhner tweeted earlier this month. "Trump should replace him with an AG who will go after Hillary's crimes. Drain the swamp!"

Trump and allies ask why he won't investigate Clinton

In a piece Kuhner authored on the subject, he wrote that Sessions' refusal "to investigate the seminal scandal of our time," the 2010 Uranium One deal, made his firing a necessity. That deal has received renewed scrutiny on the right as special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation intensifies into any connections between Trump's orbit and Russia.

Conservative Town Hall columnist Jeff Crouere echoed that sentiment, writing in a column titled "The Biggest Disappointment in Trump's Presidency" that Sessions "is handicapped" by his recusals "from the serious issues that need his attention." While the attorney general "has been vocal on the issue of combating illegal immigration, he has been unwilling to act on critical matters that impact the survival of the Trump administration," he wrote, calling for Trump to give Sessions the "you're fired" treatment.

Trump too earlier this month expressed how he was "disappointed" in the Sessions-led Justice Department after excoriating the attorney general for his recusal from all campaign-related matters and then calling upon the Justice Department to investigate the Clintons. Asked if he would fire Sessions, Trump said, "I don't know."

In his hearing before the House Judiciary Committee last week, Sessions was, of course, pressed most extensively on two topics: Russia and investigating the Clintons. It led to a memorable exchange with Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, a leading member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. He demanded of Sessions after listing off what he believed to be evidence of Clinton's wrongdoings, "What is it going to take to get a special counsel?"

"It would take a factual basis that meets the standards of the appointment of a special counsel," Sessions said after Jordan read off a list of reasons why he believed an appointment was necessary. "We will use the proper standards, and that's the only thing I can tell you, Mr. Jordan. You can have your idea but sometimes we have to study what the facts are and to evaluate whether it meets the standard that requires a special counsel."

Sessions later said, "'Looks like' is not enough basis to appoint a special counsel."

Sessions is 'getting a bit of a raw deal'

As one Trump ally explained to Business Insider, the frustration with Sessions may not extend to rank-and-file Trump supporters. But it's become engrained in the Trump political class. The ally said, however, that as attorney general, Sessions has has carried out Trump's agenda about as closely as anyone would have expected.

"I do think the guy is getting a bit of a raw deal," a former White House official told Business Insider.

Barry Bennett, a former Trump campaign adviser, told Business Insider that Sessions "has done a great job" from "an anti-establishment point of view."

"It's hard to dig your way out of [this] hole," he said, pointing to the criticism Sessions has received from the right. "But his wins are filling that hole."

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions testifies before a House Judiciary Committee hearing on oversight of the Justice Department on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., November 14, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

Thomson Reuters


Rick Tyler, former communications director for Republican Sen. Ted Cruz's 2016 presidential campaign, told Business Insider that he is neither a critic nor a fan of Sessions. Tyler is often critical of Trump, who he said "has so diminished" Sessions that the job has certainly become "really difficult."

"I do think his entanglement, self-inflicted in the Russia scandal, has caused him to take focus off his agenda and what he wants to do and what he wants to hopefully accomplish," he said. "I get the sense that this was his lifetime dream job and now he has it, he's occupying it at a time that's made it really difficult for him."

Criticism of Sessions from the right, he said, isn't coming "from the right place." Tyler said, however, that Trump has a point when saying that he wouldn't have hired Sessions had he known his attorney general would have to be recused from all Russia matters.

"You don't want an attorney general who has to recuse himself from the biggest investigation going on in the Justice Department," Tyler said.

Tyler said that Sessions is correct that no standard has been met to appoint a special counsel in any investigation related to the Clintons, calling the push a case of "whataboutitus" that has emerged as a response to the deepening Mueller investigation.

And Trump's public pushing for Sessions to investigate Clinton is "very dangerous," Tyler said.

"This isn't a reflection on Sessions but the president," he said. "I think Sessions is trying to maintain the reputation of the judicial branch, which is important to every single American because you all have to know that when you come before the law, this isn't a banana republic and the fix isn't in that as painful and slow and laborious as the justice system is, that it meets our standard of justice in that you will be treated fairly in the courts, and I think the president is still undermining that and I think Jeff Sessions is trying to maintain that."