On Tuesday morning, the CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin railed against Trump:
This tweet alone may be an impeachable offense. This is such a disgrace. This is so contrary to the traditions of the Department of Justice. You know, I used to be a U.S. Attorney. If I went to my supervisor and said, you know, we shouldn’t indict or investigate a member of the president’s party because he’s a member of the president’s party, I probably would have been suspended if not fired.
An impeachable offense, however, is really anything that the House of Representatives decides is one. The Constitution’s criterion, of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” is notably vague, and impeachment is at heart a political, rather than legal, maneuver. A Democratic takeover of the House will make impeachment far more likely, but if Republicans retain control of the Senate, as expected, removal of the president seems a fantasy.
The Senate would be called on to try the president if the House impeached him, but the body would also be required to confirm a successor to Sessions if he resigns or is fired. Trump said last week that Sessions’s job is safe through the midterm elections, with the clear implication that it will not be safe afterward. Politico reported last week that the president is personally lobbying senators to turn on Sessions.
The strange, slow-motion defenestration of Jeff Sessions
As Matt Ford has written at The New Republic, there’s precedent for senators imposing strict conditions on a president who is appointing a new attorney general, as the Senate did when, in the midst of Watergate, Richard Nixon nominated Eliot Richardson for the job. Richardson’s eventual stand on principle—refusing to fire Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox—precipitated Nixon’s resignation.
There’s a core group of Republican senators who often criticize Trump, like Ben Sasse (who said Monday’s tweet reminded him of a banana republic), Jeff Flake, and Bob Corker, who alternates between friendly and scorching remarks—including lamenting the push to topple Sessions. But others, like Lindsey Graham, have portrayed the clash between Sessions and Trump as simply a workplace dynamic that is “beyond repair.” On the Today show last week, Graham said, “The president has lost confidence in Jeff Sessions. I’m telling you what everybody in the country knows: This is a dysfunctional relationship. We need a better one.”
As Trump so often does to his allies, he has cut Graham off at the knees with his latest remarks. Insofar as the tie between Trump and Sessions is broken, that’s only because Sessions has refused to convert the Justice Department into a wholesale subsidiary of the Trump political operation. The president’s frankness may be appalling, but it means there’s no need to read between the lines or overanalyze. Trump keeps telling the nation who he is. Are senators listening?