The paradox of Jeff Sessions’s tenure as attorney general is that no other member of Donald Trump’s administration was so beleaguered and disparaged by the president, but no other member got as much done.
Even as he endured persistent verbal abuse from Trump, Sessions steamed forward on a range of conservative social-policy priorities, aggressively reorienting the Justice Department’s stances on immigration, civil rights, and criminal justice, among other issues. In an administration plagued by incompetent and ineffective figures, Sessions was a paragon of efficacy—a distinction that horrified his many opponents, but did nothing to win Trump’s trust or affection. The White House announced Wednesday that Sessions was resigning. The attorney general’s letter was not dated, and stated that he was stepping down at the president’s request.
Nothing illustrates Sessions’s effect as much as immigration policy. When it came time for Trump to pull the plug on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, as he had promised he would during the 2016 campaign, the president got cold feet, but Sessions was happy to be the public face of the withdrawal. It was Sessions who tried to follow through (unsuccessfully) on Trump’s threat to cut off funding to sanctuary cities. It was Sessions who issued new guidance to immigration judges. And, most prominent, it was Sessions who went to the border to announce the Trump administration’s decision to separate migrant children from their parents. Sessions openly said the plan to split families up was intended to deter migrants, even as other administration officials said otherwise. The policy was met with widespread and appropriate horror, and Trump eventually pulled back—but he had backed the plan before that, and Sessions had followed through.