“If he can get treated that way, what about the rest of us?” one of the President’s Cabinet secretaries asked me with both shock and anger in his voice. I am told reports about Rex Tillerson (not who I talked to) are legitimate. He is quite perturbed with the President’s treatment of his Attorney General and is ready to quit. Secretary Mattis (also not who I talked to) is also bothered by it. They and other Cabinet members are already frustrated by the slow pace of appointments for their staffs, the vetoes over qualified people for not being sufficiently pro-Trump, and the Senate confirmation pace.
In fact, the Cabinet secretary I talked to raised the issue of the White House staff vetoes over loyalty, blasting the White House staff for blocking qualified people of like mind because they were not pro-Trump and now the President is ready to fire the most loyal of all the Cabinet members. “It’s more of a clusterf**k than you even know,” the Cabinet secretary tells me about dealing with the White House on policy. It is not just Tillerson ready to bail.
Jeff Sessions was with President Trump early. He was the earliest member of the Senate and the earliest politician of his prominence to come out in support of President Trump. He had his back repeatedly, defended the absurd, and is in the mess he is in because he took on so many duties within the campaign to help the President when few even thought Trump could win.
And he is being rewarded by a President throwing him under the bus. Neither the Cabinet secretary I talked to nor anyone else in the White House I talked to believes the Washington Post story about Jeff Sessions meeting with Russians came from anywhere other than the White House. “The President does not like to fire people, believe it or not,” a senior White House staffer told me. “But putting the AG in an untenable position could get him to quit. The President is passive aggressive.” (See e.g. his recent treatment of Priebus over the Scaramucci hiring)1
If the President does fire Sessions, he is going to undermine the morale and confidence of his Cabinet secretaries who have the power to undermine his agenda. Tossing the most loyal of cabinet secretaries because he had to recuse himself on the Russia matter, which itself is a self-inflicted wound by the President and no one else, would send a very strong message to the rest of the Cabinet and many others that the President will not show reciprocal loyalty.
And that is the point of the Secretary with whom I spoke. Not every one of the Cabinet members supported Trump. Some of them even were put off by him through the general election. And of those who were with him loyally, none was more loyal than Sessions. It’s a good point. If this could happen to the most loyal of all the Cabinet members, God help the rest of them.
1. Worth noting that Jeff Sessions gave up a cushy seat in the Senate to which he would have been easily reelected to serve as AG and underwent a grueling Senate confirmation fight and substantial attacks on his character. That makes me think he really would not want to quit.↩