The Doomsday Scenario: How Replacing Sessions Could Trigger A Cascading Series Of Unfortunate Events

Superman_Doomsday_logojeff_sessions_official_portraitBelow is my column in USA Today on the possibility of a “Doomsday scenario” where President Donald Trump first fired (or forces the resignation) of Jeff Sessions and then moves to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller.  That scenario was reinforced yesterday with reports that Trump has discussed firing Sessions and giving a recess appointment to his successor — the very scenario laid out earlier in this column.   In addition, Trump blasted Sessions again yesterday — this time criticizing him for not replacing Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, whose wife ran for office in Virginia in 2015 and received large contributions from the Democratic Party.   

Trump’s unrelenting criticism of Sessions is occurring at the same time as new leaks about his discussing not just a replacement but a recess appointment — something the Democrats have vowed to prevent.  The question is whether some Republicans might join in that effort to prevent the type of Doomsday scenario laid out in this earlier column.

Many in Washington are baffled by President Trump’s continuing attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, most recently at Tuesday’s news conference with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

Trump is clearly angry that Sessions recused himself from the investigation of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election, but what does the president hope to gain in a one-sided verbal war with one of his most loyal supporters?  Does the president have a strategy or is he merely venting?

The hope among Republicans is that this tweet storm too shall pass. But there is another possibility, that the president is intentionally pushing his administration past the fail-safe point to engineer the termination of the special counsel investigation by first removing the attorney general.

The costs would be both immediate and potentially prohibitive, but the idea that Trump would act is not so far-fetched. Why would he do it? The reason should chill every Republican on Capitol Hill to the bone. Trump said that “time will tell” in how he deals with Sessions. His failure to answer direct questions on Sessions’ future is telling enough.

First, it is important to state the obvious. Sessions, Trump’s most loyal supporter in the Senate during the presidential campaign, acted entirely appropriately in recusing himself from the Russian investigation, despite Trump’s recent statement that he would never have appointed him if he knew Sessions would recuse himself.

By insisting that Sessions should not have recused, Trump is saying Sessions should have taken an unethical path, ignoring the views of the Justice Department ethics lawyers he consulted.  Similarly, Trump’s suggestion that Sessions should have opened up investigations into the president’s 2016 general election opponent and the Democrats contradicts long-standing rules against political influence over Justice Department investigations.

The renewed attacks on Sessions as “weak” and “beleaguered” and disappointing has convinced many that Trump is trying to get Sessions to voluntarily resign. The conspicuous absence of Sessions from key events, such as the Boy Scout Jamboree attended by other Eagle Scouts in the Cabinet, has fueled the speculation that the attorney general is being sent a clear signal that he is persona non grata.

I believe that Sessions would do a disservice to his department by resigning, but he could conclude that the loss of trust and a working relationship with the president makes his continuation as attorney general dangerous for the country.

That would set the scene for a doomsday scenario.

Here is how it would work. If Trump wants to stop the expansion or even the continuation of the special counsel investigation,  his problem is not really with the attorney general. When Sessions recused himself, his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, gained authority over the Russia investigation and appointed Bob Mueller. If ordered to fire the special counsel he appointed, the assumption is that Rosenstein would either have to be fired or resign (as did his predecessors in the Nixon administration when ordered to fire Archibald Cox). Presumably, Rosenstein’s  subordinates would then follow suit (as was the case in Nixon). It would continue until Trump could find or appoint a new Robert Bork (who as solicitor general finally fired Cox).

Removing Sessions is the simple alternative to that drawn-out and messy prospect. If Sessions leaves, whether he is fired or forced out by Trump’s continuing abuse, the president could appoint an attorney general with no ties to the campaign and no objective reason to recuse himself or herself. He could even make the appointment during a recess and avoid the Senate confirmation process to allow the immediate exercise of authority as attorney general.

Democrats are reportedly moving to block a recess with a filibuster if needed, but Trump has been (thus far unsuccessfully) calling for the Senate to rewrite its rules to restrict the filibuster. If Trump and Senate Republican supporters were successful in changing the rules, there would be no confirmation vote — allowing GOP senators to publicly express outrage but not have to take any action.

The recess appointee could then take over control of the special counsel investigation and either limit its scope or terminate Mueller. Rosenstein would likely resign in protest, but that would merely allow Trump another key recess appointment.

The immediate response to such an action would be calls for the reinstatement of the Independent Counsel Act, but (with both houses in Republican control) Trump may think that he has enough votes to block such a counter move. If so, the only Russia probes remaining would be congressional investigations led by Republicans. Trump could then use the Justice Department to open up investigations of the Clintons and Democrats in their dealings with RussiansUkrainians and others.

Of course, there would also be immediate calls for the drafting of articles of impeachment, but Trump is a classic margin player in both business and politics. An impeachment effort requires a two-thirds supermajority in the Senate — 67 votes — to remove Trump from office. Math is on his side.

The common assumption in Washington is that the costs of such a strategy would be simply too high. Trump would plummet even further in the polls, and skittish Republicans could easily bolt on Capitol Hill.

But Trump won the 2016 election by constantly defying such assumptions, and those plummeting polls are just what may give him the opportunity to do it again.

Trump could be coming close to developing Christie Syndrome. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie reached record lows in the polls recently at around 15% approval. That is getting precariously close to the margin of error for polling. If he goes any lower, pollsters could just start listing the names of his supporters.

Backed into that corner, Christie responded with the ultimate Italian salute from a beach in Jersey. After the state barred citizens from beaches due to the budget impasse, Christie basked in the sun with his family and then dismissed the anger of his constituents. It became so bad that when Christie recently caught a ball (left handed) at a Mets game and gave the ball to an adorable kid, he was actually booed. Booed. Most politicians have nightmares of such a situation but Christie shows that it can actually be liberating. It is almost impossible to go below 10% because a certain number of polled citizens either love you for being an entertaining car wreck or just mistake you for their favorite singer Meat Loaf.

Trump could reach a Christie stage and conclude that with three years to recover, he has little to lose but much to gain in shutting down the special counsel investigation. Of course, the problem is that the move could hand not one but two houses to the Democrats after the midterm — with a serious threat of impeachment and removal. Yet, that would be then and this is now. Trump might believe that his core of 35%-40% supporters would stick with him, and that’s good enough to keep the GOP in line and even secure the nomination for a second term.

So there is the doomsday scenario based on mutually assured destruction. All doomsday scenarios are based on the belief that despite the horrific losses, you will be one most likely to crawl out of the radioactive wreckage. In other words, the last guy standing wins.

Jonathan Turley, the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University, is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors. Follow him on Twitter: @JonathanTurley

275 thoughts on “The Doomsday Scenario: How Replacing Sessions Could Trigger A Cascading Series Of Unfortunate Events”

  1. This is our country. There should be no “last” man standing scenerio again. In clinton v republicans -sessions read the landscape. Hence we have trump. Trump needs to get that through his thick skull. If it weren’t for sessions the other guys would have lost to clinton.

  2. Foolish Mark, I am asking for proof why Mueller was needed. You guys are on empty. Hopefully the independent prosecutor will be appointed to look at HRC and her gang. It seems there are some stirrings in that direction.

  3. Prof Turley has been accurately describing the past actual actions of President Trump and his associates (I think lawyers call this a “fact pattern”), and is here describing a likely set of actions the President would be likely to consider taking in the future, reasonably extrapolating from the President’s recent actions and statements.

    But the Professor appears to be avoiding stating why he believes these actions are likely, or at least being considered by the President. What would tie them together? What would motivate the President to say and do the things he has done recently, and why would he be so likely to attempt what is laid out in this article?

    The Professor appears to be working hard to avoid being frank and simply stating clearly the difficult-to-avoid conclusion that the President of the United States very much wants to engage in criminal obstruction of justice (and arguably already has when he fired James Comey, as his subsequent actions and statements make ever more clear.)

    One comment from the President’s interview with the New York Times which has largely been overshadowed by his comments that made it very much sound like he expected Jeff Sessions to help him obstruct justice was that Trump expects the head of the FBI to report directly to him, bypassing the ostensibly non-political Department of Justice, and in almost the same sentence says how much better he expects things to go with his nominee Christopher Wray.

    So we have a President who even skeptical Prof. Turley expects to attempt to obstruct justice appointing someone to head the FBI who he comes close to overtly saying will “report directly” to him. How far does all of this have to go before “polite” people like Professor Turley will finally call for the impeachment and removal of Donald Trump? How much more harm has to be done to our republic?

    1. Discretion is the better part of valor.

      The good professor is a diplomat with a desire to persist.

    2. re: “…and arguably already has when he fired James Comey.”

      Sadly, I believe you’re mistaken, as Comey admitted in congressional testimony that he leaked his memos of confidential information, some classified in order to instigate the appointment of a Special Counsel.

      That may be two felonies right here. The president was well within his perogative to fire an out of control FBI director. It wouldn’t be be the first time it should have been done.

      Too bad JFK didn’t fire J. Edgar Hoover, it might have saved his life.

  4. I like AG Sessions. But I also think he got the message from the boss.

    1. I think they both got messages from each other. Session’s message was I do my job and I do it well in what I consider to be an appropriate manner. Trumps message, which is typical of his methodology for his entire life, is get the job done right.

      1. AG Sessions must amend his recusal and terminate this illegal investigation.

        Mueller is investigating a person not a crime, not probable cause.

        The DOJ has reacted politically and illegally to rumors and innuendo

        with nebulous reference to an unsupported accusation of

        international intelligence and counter-intelligence activity.

        1. George, I have significant hope that if Mueller continues to expand the investigation that he will be stopped. Perhaps Sessions will say that though he recused himself he still has the power to limit the investigation to Russian involvement in the campaign. This is a horror for it is telling all American people that outsiders will not be permitted by the insiders in Washington. The swamp in essence combined with their donors (mostly on the left) are the oligarchy some refer to.

          This problem tells us that the federal government has become too large and powerful.

  5. don’t know what’s going on. I have tried w/o success to post TBTV’s post and only Styxx comes up

  6. why are we wasting our time on MS13 unless it is taking away from real issues – like the infiltration of Pakis in our government?

  7. For JT to talk about Ethics in reference to session’s recusal is so pathetic point of view ! I can’t believe how limited our patronizing elites are ! Sad!

  8. Other totally bogus Nothingburger article, with a side Vapor Salad, washed down with an Air-Shake. There would have been ZERO ethical violations if Sessions had not recused himself. ZERO. That’s ZERO, as in zip, zilch, nada, nothing, “0.”

    What was the possible reason that Sessions should have recused himself? Where was the conflict-of-interest? It’s NONEXISTENT! The ONLY people saying there were grounds for recusal were Leftists. And the Leftist agenda is NEVER good for America or Civilization.

    Moreover, as JT should well know (and probably does, but deceptively fails to discuss in his articles), JUDGES are faced with conflicts-of-interests in cases, yet they rarely recuse themselves even though in those cases there are DAMN GOOD REASONS they should recuse themselves.

    For example, take Judge Jay Bybee. (Please!) While on the bench, he was represented, gratis, by Davis, Polk & Wardwell for his pre-bench work, when he authored the notorious torture memos (approving waterboarding). He was supposed to be recused from all cases involving the firm, But in one such case, Salazar Castellano v. Holder, he failed to recuse himself. NO PROBLEM AND NO CONSEQUENCES.

    Then there’s lowlife skumbag wormmeat Ninth Circuit Judge Andrew Kleinfeld who acknowledged a conflict, but failed to recuse himself because his wife owned stock in Verizon. He then decided the outcome of Maloney v. Verizon Internet Services. NO PROBLEM AND NO CONSEQUENCES.

    Are we getting my drift?

    1. Sessions lied to Congress about contact with the Russians…on camera…or did that slip your mind

        1. DJT? Proof, David. Proof.

          DWS, the proof is out there even if minimized as much as possible by the MSM.

  9. Mr. Mueller, are you conducting a counter-intelligence or criminal investigation?

    Mr. Mueller, please cite the crime committed by a person or a matter in which a crime has been committed by a person or probable cause related to your current special investigation.”

    Mr. Mueller, it is not within your purview to arbitrarily select an individual and conduct an all-encompassing investigation of that person from his birth date forward.

    Speical Counsel Regulations –

    “The Attorney General, or in cases in which the Attorney General is recused, the Acting Attorney General, will appoint a Special Counsel when he or she determines that criminal investigation of a person or matter is warranted and—

    (a) That investigation or prosecution of that person or matter by a United States Attorney’s Office or litigating Division of the Department of Justice would present a conflict of interest for the Department or other extraordinary circumstances; and

    (b) That under the circumstances, it would be in the public interest to appoint an outside Special Counsel to assume responsibility for the matter.”

    1. I am quite sure the indictments will cite to the appropriate statutory provisions.

      This is to anticipatory George

      1. “Indictments” will be abrogated as entirely political and immutably null and void.

        AG Sessions must amend his recusal and terminate this illegal investigation.

        Mueller is investigating a person not a crime, not probable cause.

        The DOJ has reacted politically and illegally to rumors and innuendo

        with nebulous reference to an unsupported accusation of

        international intelligence and counter-intelligence activity.

        1. Choice. I’ve seen “sovereign citizens” try such claptrap in court, you know: “fringe on the flag”; “not operating a vehicle in commerce” and other assorted inanities, but it never seems to work out for them, either. The “entirely political and immutably null and void” may sound good, but the cell door is crafted of actual steel.

          this is to “fixin to get a rude awakening george”

  10. WTF? Can we finally have DWS and the Clinton Foundation investigated???????????

    1. Why not? I could be wrong, but isn’t there clear documentation of wrongdoing? They keep digging for Trump, but aren’t the activities of HRC stated clearly? It’s a shame it’s come to this.

      1. Haha. Is Pravda Faux News still shilling the Hillary trope? That’s rich. Thanks for the chuckle.

        This is to taken-by-the-con slohr

    2. Do you get paid for posting the same thing over and over again? Wing-nut welfare at its finest, get a job and regain some personal integrity. All this lying can not be good for you.

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