The Haymaker: Will Trump Fire Sessions by the Time You Finish This Headline?

Published on July 25, 2017 · Last updated July 28, 2020
Attorney General Jeff Sessions departs a news conference after announcing an international cybercrime enforcement action at the Department of Justice, Thursday, July 20, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
‘The Haymaker’ is Leafly Deputy Editor Bruce Barcott’s weekly column on cannabis politics and culture.

The headline exaggerates, of course. (Checking…checking…okay. Not fired yet.) But not by much.

If you’re a journalist covering Jeff Sessions these days, you’ve got to write fast and keep one eye on the Twitter feed. Those of us in the cannabis world keep tabs on Sessions because of his bizarre obsession with marijuana and the glee he takes in threatening a legalization crackdown. He also, of course, wields the power to bring real harm to many of our friends, neighbors, and colleagues.

The Trump-Sessions feud has turned into Lannister v. Stark at ten paces with tridents.

For the past eight months, more than 120,000 people whose jobs are tied to legal cannabis have worried about Sessions’ intent to destroy their livelihoods. “Sessions anxiety” has become a condition so common it merits its own classification in the DSM-V.

For the past few weeks, though, Sessions has swallowed spoonfuls of that same medicine. Trump, the boss to whom Sessions has shown nothing but love and loyalty, now blames his attorney general for the mess he’s in over Russia. (The logic, briefly: If Sessions hadn’t recused himself over L’Affaire Russe, Trump figures, the AG could fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller—or more likely have prevented Mueller’s appointment in the first place.) The hotter the Russian plot boils, the swifter Trump’s boot swings toward Sessions’ backside.

Nice shades, Mooch. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Earlier today things seemed to reach a breaking point. White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci acknowledged a “level of tension” between Trump and Sessions. This is saying something. The Mooch is the guy who declared that he and his fierce White House rival Reince Priebus were “like brothers.” So interpret the phrase “level of tension” to mean “Lannister v. Stark at ten paces with tridents.”

When radio host Hugh Hewitt said the “president wants [Sessions] gone,” Scaramucci said that “I know the president pretty well. And if there’s this level of tension, you’re probably right.”

It’s unclear whether the Mooch made that comment before or after donning his new Hot Topic shades and threatening to fire the entire White House communications staff.

‘Beleaguered Jeff’

Trump, for his part, poked Sessions in this delightful little tweet:

If you know anything about Trump, you know that “very weak” is one of the worst things he can say about a person. Besides “crooked.” And “Hillary.”

That followed yesterday’s “beleaguered AG” broadside:

Sessions, for his part, told friends he’s getting perturbed, in his courtly way, about the unfair treatment. “Sessions is totally pissed off about it,” one of the AG’s allies told The Daily Beast this afternoon. And he’s responding by hunkering down and letting it be known that he’s not going anywhere.

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Conservative Schism

Meanwhile, hard-right conservatives are choosing sides. Ann Coulter urged President Trump to lance the boil:

At Trump Base Fortress One, aka Breitbart News, Sessions defenders came out strong for their man. “Sessions’s ouster would be a devastating blow to the prestige and prominence of the nationalist-populist underpinnings of the wider Trump movement,” Ian Mason wrote yesterday.

The Recess Appointment

What are Trump’s options?

The Smart Play of the Day™ has the President firing Sessions, then waiting until Congress skulks out of town to appoint an interim AG during the August recess. A promise to fire Mueller would be, assumedly, the price of the appointment.

University of Texas law professor Steve Vladeck suggested this scenario earlier this morning:

Article II, Section 2, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution empowers the President “to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.” And as the Supreme Court concluded three years ago in the Noel Canning case, “the Recess of the Senate” can include just about any formal recess that lasts 10 or more days, whether it’s an “inter-session” or “intra-session” recess. (Noel Canning also holds that the vacancy at issue need not arise during the recess, although both of these holdings were over the nominal dissents of four of the more conservative Justices.)

Trump could fire Sessions, then appoint anybody (literally anybody) to serve as acting attorney general, without being confirmed, until the end of the next Senate session—January 3, 2019. “That person would have the same authority as a Senate-confirmed Attorney General,” wrote Vladeck, including the power to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Who would that acting AG be? Rudy Giuliani’s name has been floated; so have the ol’ teddy bears Newt Gingrich and Ted Cruz. Trump probably doesn’t trust Cruz enough to offer him the job. As he demonstrated most recently with his appointment of the Mooch, the President prefers employees who sacrifice their own beliefs and ambitions for his own. Nailing the hand gestures also helps.

Wild cards? Former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who’s currently leading the Trump Administration’s voter fraud commission, could be in the running for the temporary job. So could Judge Jeanine Pirro, star of Fox News’ Justice with Judge Jeanine.

Seriously, Why Not Pirro?

How would one of those acting AG’s handle marijuana legalization? Initially, probably not much differently than Sessions. But over time, all the table-banging over legalization might get dialed back just a bit.

Judge Jeanine: Seriously.

Sessions has gone out of his way to express his contempt for drug reform. He went so far as to address the national convention of D.A.R.E. (BTW: Who knew D.A.R.E. still had a following big enough to hold a convention?)

Jeanine Pirro—yes, I’m taking her seriously—may be the best of them. True, she’s a strong supporter of the awful return to mandatory minimum sentences, but a few years ago she actually posted an open question about legalization to her viewers:

The issue of marijuana legalization sparks passionate arguments from both sides of the debate. Which side are you on?

Posted by Judge Jeanine Pirro on Tuesday, March 8, 2011

That’s a thin, tiny straw, desperately grasped. Hey, I’m working with what I’ve got here. Have you seen the other contenders? Kris Kobach hails from a state famous for two things: killing witches with flying houses, and hating Colorado legalization (I believe it’s on their license plates). Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani, those walking episodes of I Love The 90s, never met a drug sentence they didn’t want to double.

So at the moment (checking…checking…Sessions still not fired) my hopes and dreams ride on Judge Jeanine. We live in an era in which Kid Rock is considering a serious run for the Senate. Donald Trump was elected President. They just dug up Salvador Dali’s corpse to sample his DNA. So all in all, having an actual former judge, and a woman, as our acting attorney general might not be the most surreal thing imaginable. Or the worst.

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Bruce Barcott
Bruce Barcott
Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott oversees news, investigations, and feature projects. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America.
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