As the first arrests and guilty plea in Donald Trump’s Russia scandal have sent the various Trump-Russia players into a dither this week, an unmistakeable pattern has emerged. The Trump team is now making abundantly clear that Jeff Sessions was well aware of various Trump campaign meetings and conspiracies with the Russian government. This proves Sessions was lying when he claimed otherwise under oath. Suddenly it’s become easy for Robert Mueller to indict and arrest Jeff Sessions. Too easy.
On Monday, the formal confession from Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos was made public. He alleged that several Trump campaign officials, including Jeff Sessions, were aware in advance of his plot to conspire with the Russian government to alter the outcome of the election. On Thursday, Trump campaign adviser Carter Page testified before Congress that Sessions knew in advance about his trip to Moscow during the campaign.
The Page news prompted respected law professor Richard Painter to tweet “The fix is in. They set up Sessions to take the fall. After he is gone, a new acting AG fires Mueller.” I’ve come to suspect that Painter may indeed be correct about this, as he often is. I also don’t believe that such a plot will succeed. Trump can’t fire Mueller without firing Sessions and Rod Rosenstein first. Too many Senate Republicans are old friends with Sessions, and they don’t want him fired for personal reasons. Many of the Senate Republicans also don’t want Mueller fired, because they don’t want the public blowback of that firing to land on them heading into the midterms.
Donald Trump and his team may indeed be serving up Jeff Sessions as bait, in the hope that Robert Mueller will eagerly bust him. But Mueller knows that if he slaps handcuffs on Sessions, then Trump truly will have an excuse to fire Sessions. Even the Republican Senate wouldn’t be able to justify having a sitting Attorney General who’s in jail or under house arrest.
For that reason, Mueller has every strategic reason not to arrest Sessions – at least not yet. For all we know, Mueller may already have a sealed indictment against Sessions in hand. But if Mueller unseals it now, it may swiftly lead to his own firing. Considering what’s at stake, Mueller has a right – and even a responsibly – to keep himself from getting fired so he can see justice through all the way to the end.
Robert Mueller could arrest Jeff Sessions at any time for the crime of having lied under oath to the Senate back in January. But this was true even before Trump’s advisers began fingering Sessions. There’s a reason Mueller hasn’t arrested Sessions yet. He’ll use other avenues to get to Donald Trump, and once it’s reached the point of no return where Trump is going down one way or the other, then he can bring Sessions to justice as well. In fact, if and when Mueller does arrest Sessions, it’ll be a sign that he already has Trump nailed.
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