The Personnel Math that Gets us to Mueller

If you have to have an acting attorney general as it relates to one of the biggest issues of the moment, you may have picked the wrong AG.

robert-muellerIn thinking about the unfolding events in Washington, I a struck by the following (emphasis mine) from deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein:

In my capacity as acting Attorney General, I determined that it is in the public interest for me to exercise my authority and appoint a Special Counsel to assume responsibility for this matter.

Normally, a person would only be “acting” in such a capacity because of a vacancy.  However, the only vacancy in the Attorney General’s office is a vacancy of responsibility and ethics, as Jeff Session remains in office.  His lack of candor before a Senate committee led him to have to recuse himself from matters pertaining any investigations of the Russian hacking allegations.

That fact alone underscores the mess this administration has created. It is also a commentary on the general competence of this president.

Consider:

-Trump fired acting AG Sally Yates over her unwillingness to implement the President’s original travel ban.  She was,  however, someone who was giving the administration relevant information on Michael Flynn and Russia, which they appear to have ignored*

-The next AG, Jeff Sessions, had to recuse himself from anything to do with the Russia investigations because he was dishonest in testimony during his confirmation hearing.

-The President fired the FBI Director, allegedly because of Rosenstein’s recommendation (but later we found out that he was going to fire him anyway).

So, to recap:  a fired acting AG, a recusal by the sitting AG, a fired FBI Director and now a Special Counsel.  All in less that 120 day and all with direct connections to allegations concerning Russian interference with the campaign/inappropriate contacts with Trump-linked individuals.

It is a remarkable string of personnel moves and maneuverings, to the degree that if one had made it up, it would have seemed absurd.

I will also note that the fact that Sally Yates clearly tried to do her job vis-a-vis the Flynn situation and the fact that Jeff Sessions essentially disqualified himself from participation in what is clearly the biggest issue confronting the Justice Department at the moment is quite a damning contrast.

*Updated for accuracy as per the comment thread below.

FILED UNDER: US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Neil Hudelson says:

    If only 540 editorial boards and every living President had warned us of the dangers of a Trump administration.

  2. Ben Wolf says:

    There’s a clear pattern of professional malpractice on the Republican side.

  3. Moosebreath says:

    “However, the only vacancy in the Attorney General’s office is a vacancy of responsibility and ethics, as Jeff Session remains in office.”

    I can add a few more vacancies — honesty, compassion, judgment, etc.

  4. CSK says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    Trump actually copped a whopping six newspaper endorsements, although five of them were from newspapers with circulation figures of under 20,000.

    And let us not forget that he earned the highly desirable endorsement of The Daily Stormer as well as the equally highly coveted imprimatur of the KKK newsrag, The Crusader.

  5. Janis Gore says:

    Dr. Taylor, serious question, does Jeff Sessions have anything to commend him?

  6. Argon says:

    During a discussion I’d heard with one of the architects of the Special Counsel directives, I believe he said the protocol was specifically developed to handle cases where it was assumed the AG was compromised by any potential investigation.

    So, chalk one up for the professionals in government.

    And sometime in the not so distant future, I look forward to seeing Sessions explain why he participated in the firing of the FBI director despite recusing himself from any actions relevant to the Russian investigation.

  7. Janis Gore says:

    Wait. When did the narrative change on the Sally Yates firing? Originally, the rationale was that she refused to enforce the first travel EO.

  8. CSK says:

    @Janis Gore:

    That was my impression, too.

  9. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @Argon:

    And sometime in the not so distant future, I look forward to seeing Sessions explain why he participated in the firing of the FBI director despite recusing himself from any actions relevant to the Russian investigation.

    Umm… I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for that hearing to happen. Just sayin…

  10. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @Janis Gore: @CSK: I think that Flynn is being counted as an additional provocation. A reasonable assumption, in my thinking.

  11. CSK says:
  12. @Janis Gore: Nothing comes to mind, to be honest.

  13. @Janis Gore: My apologies: that was the public reason given. I am perhaps overly inferring. Yates did warn the administration about Flynn and they ignored her.

    CNN: Sally Yates says she warned White House that Flynn was a blackmail risk.

    She was fired less than a week after she met with the White House Counsel on the subject of Flynn.

  14. @Argon: BTW, I give Rosenstein credit for naming a Special Counsel. I simply blame the administration’s utter incompetence for being in the situation we are in.

  15. Janis Gore says:

    Of course it’s reasonable. But her days were numbered in the beginning because Trump was sure to replace her with his own selection, as presidents do. She was biding her time until he did. So there were a few factors at work.

  16. Janis Gore says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: He strikes me as the worst kind of prissy Southern autocrat, but I haven’t paid much attention to him before now.

  17. @Janis Gore: Her position was temporary, to be sure.

  18. David M says:

    Firing Sally Yates mostly for the EO is probably more likely, as the Trump Administration is incompetent and clueless enough that they probably just completely ignored her warnings about Flynn.

    It doesn’t make the Trump Administration look much better though, as this means they fired her for being right about the EO. Not only was it stuck down, they essentially agreed with Yates when they rewrote it, and even the rewrite was stopped by the courts.

    I only bring this up because the Trump Administration is so mind-numbingly bad that things like this are overshadowed by newer scandals.

  19. Jen says:

    I’m still struggling to understand how Session’s lying under oath to the Senate didn’t cause him to lose his job.

    Incidentally, a Reuters/Ipsos poll that came out yesterday has Trump’s approval ratings among Republicans dropping to 75%.

  20. I have edited the post to make the point more accurate.

  21. Janis Gore says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I think that’s better. You wouldn’t like to be accused of ignoring the proximate rationale.

  22. Mikey says:

    @Jen:

    I’m still struggling to understand how Session’s lying under oath to the Senate didn’t cause him to lose his job.

    Really? To me it’s pretty clear. Sessions is a Republican, the Senate majority is Republican, therefore Sessions can get away with what would lose any DoJ or FBI employee their job.

  23. P says:

    If Sessions had told the truth, he would have been confirmed just the same, except without having to now recuse himself over that pesky Russia investigation.

    When was the last time a Senator lost a confirmation vote?

  24. Jen says:

    @Mikey: Well, yes–I get the obvious partisan reason. Bill Clinton was disbarred for lying under oath. Why wasn’t Sessions? Is this something that could happen once he’s out of office, or is this meh, whatever from Republicans the end of it?

    Just trying to figure out the hypocrisy parameters, more than anything.

  25. Janis Gore says:

    Clinton was not disbarred as we think of it:

    http://www.snopes.com/bill-clinton-fined-and-disbarred-over-the-monica-lewinsky-scandal/

    I think Sessions was given a pass because senators have busy schedules and they found it plausible that he simply didn’t remember it. I don’t know if he had a daily calendar at the hearing.

  26. Janis Gore says:

    Plausibility. Senators know a lot about that.

  27. Mikey says:

    @Janis Gore: Except it’s utterly ludicrous to suggest a person–even a senator–would simply “forget” he’d met with the Russian Ambassador. It’s simply not plausible by any definition.

    He deliberately omitted the information and his party-before-country colleagues gave him a pass nobody else would get. That’s the whole deal, right there.

  28. Mikey says:

    @Jen:

    Is this something that could happen once he’s out of office, or is this meh, whatever from Republicans the end of it?

    Unless he’s somehow included in the ongoing investigations or pulled in by the special counsel, then yes, the “meh whatever” from the GOP is the end of it.

  29. Janis Gore says:

    @Mikey: Oh, bull. Sure they can say it’s plausible. We’re not talking about what is, we’re talking about what’s possible. I was married to a defense lawyer.

  30. Mikey says:

    @Janis Gore: My point is, Sessions lied and the Senate GOP allowed him to get away with it. They accepted as plausible an assertion that was clearly ludicrous.

  31. Janis Gore says:

    Sessions is a good enough lawyer that he wouldn’t have gotten into the middle of anything if there was anything, I think. He probably has nothing to add. As I said he before, he’s a prissy little Southern autocrat. His nasty little hands are for leakers and journalists and competitors and senators who don’t get in line.

    I don’t think he has much to give us on the Russians. I do think he’s a nasty little prick.

  32. Janis Gore says:

    My point is, your point is irrelevant. He has power.

  33. Mikey says:

    @Janis Gore: At this point I’m trying to figure out what you’re disagreeing with, as we seem to be saying basically the same thing.

  34. Janis Gore says:

    I didn’t start this argument.

  35. Argon says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    @Argon: BTW, I give Rosenstein credit for naming a Special Counsel. I simply blame the administration’s utter incompetence for being in the situation we are in.

    Yes. That was a good call. A believe the Deputy AG isn’t compromised. But Sessions….he’s got to provide real answers for participating in Comey’s removal.

  36. Argon says:

    @Jen:

    I’m still struggling to understand how Session’s lying under oath to the Senate didn’t cause him to lose his job.

    Sessions is facing potential disbarment in Alabama. As for the Senate: Well, because McConnell.

  37. Janis Gore says:

    @Argon: Highly unlikely. A Birmingham, AL story about the filing:

    http://www.al.com/news/birmingham/index.ssf/2017/03/lawyer_files_alabama_bar_assoc.html

    A lawyer is disbarred in the state where he was licensed, as I understand it.

    Jeff Sessions has been a been a senator of the great state of Alabama for 20 years:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeff_Sessions

  38. An Interested Party says:

    He strikes me as the worst kind of prissy Southern autocrat…

    Indeed…it’s the easiest thing in the world to picture him, sitting on the front porch of his plantation, punishing and humiliating those who are working for him in the cotton fields…