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Sessions Recusal Is an Unfortunate Surrender

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

The week was going so well.

The air still hung thick with the joy of Tuesday night’s magnificent Donald Trump speech before a joint session of Congress. No one expected that honeymoon to last forever, but few thought that the warm glow would be doused by a contrived story about Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Russia testimony. And even fewer could have foreseen Sessions caving under pressure on the same day President Trump voiced “total” confidence in him.

But sadly, that’s precisely what happened.

As the day sagged under the burden of haters calling for Sessions to resign or face prosecution, liberals were joined by pandering Republicans seeking to curry favor by staking out the seemingly reasonable middle ground of a mere harangue that Sessions recuse himself from further investigations into the matter. Throw in some calls for a special prosecutor, and the narrative snowball was on a roll.

We had come to expect that this would be the moment where Sessions, with the backing of President Trump, would push back against this malicious chorus, pointing out that it is based on precisely nothing. Neither the FBI nor any congressional committee has offered a molecule of evidence that anyone in the Trump campaign sphere had any improper contact with the Russians during the election season.

As he toured the USS Gerald R. Ford in its Virginia port, Trump seemed to lay the groundwork for the kind of battle his supporters have come to love, and to expect—a full-throated defense of his Attorney General, maybe with some deserved scolding thrown in for posturing liberals crying for Sessions to be drawn and quartered.

This did not happen, and that invites disaster.

President Trump winged his way back to the White House with no further comment as Sessions apparently huddled with staffers who managed to perform a surgical removal of his spine.

In a late afternoon announcement, Sessions revealed that his team had managed to persuade him to open the floodgates of leftist torment that will now fill his days. “I have studied the rules and considered their comments and evaluations. I believe those recommendations are right and just.”

Well, I believe those recommendations were garbage, an invitation to a flood of opportunistic attacks without end.

They are already under way. Was anyone stupid enough to think the recusal would calm the waters? Or was it just a stunning failure to properly assess the situation? One thing is for sure: the coming days and weeks will now be filled with Trump-haters at full volume reading from a most predictable stack of index cards:

“This is just the beginning.”

“Recusal does not erase the many things that still require investigation.”

“It’s just the tip of the iceberg.”

“We can no longer trust the Attorney General’s office.”

“It’s clear that the administration’s narrative is collapsing.”

“Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”

Thanks, Mr. Sessions, and thanks to that crack staff of yours.

The Sessions appointment and confirmation were high points in the assembly of the Trump cabinet. I fully expect he will fill his years of service with inspiring moments of standing up for the rule of law, defending our Constitution and otherwise honoring the office in ways Loretta Lynch and Eric Holder never did.

But first, we will have to see if he survives. If he does not, history can remember March 2 as the day he pulled the rug out from under himself.

To repeat: There is no evidence that Sessions or anyone with the Trump campaign engaged in any sinister collusion to facilitate Russian mischief toward our election. Some of us who had grown foolishly confident were preparing for what we knew would come: President Trump restoring sanity to a media frenzy, followed by Sessions calmly informing us that he answered Senator Al Franken’s question about the campaign with an actual answer about the campaign.

On that basis, Trump and Sessions would make clear they would not dance to the malevolent drumbeat of liberals and laggard Republicans compelled to draw premature conclusions without evidence.

After the stratospheric high of Trump’s Tuesday night speech, I feel positively robbed. It is quite a free-fall to see the President do exactly what he needed to do on Tuesday night, only to watch this spectacle two days later.

One of two profoundly discouraging things has happened here. Either Trump approved of the recusal, thus abandoning the combative energy that fueled his win, or Sessions caved on his own, against Trump’s wishes.

Either way, the coming days of nightmare are the administration’s own fault. Would it have been a challenge to stand up to the invective of Democrats and liberal pundits? Yes. Would it have required a special need for clarity and toughness from Sean Spicer, KellyAnne Conway and the Republicans with the guts to stand up for Sessions? Absolutely.

But they would have enjoyed the growing support and admiration of Americans who have come to embrace and relish the opening weeks of the Trump era, filled with bold words, strong actions and a fighting spirit.

That fighting spirit evaporated Thursday, a day that started with liberal clamoring for Sessions’ head on a platter and ended with the bullies rewarded with their first capitulation.

They will howl for more. Invigorated by this first backdown, they will crank the volume of demands for more investigations and more prosecutors, sprinkled with calls for Sessions’ resignation, even imprisonment.

Some level of this prattling was going to happen even if Sessions and Trump chose to fight back. But at least then we would have known they were willing to stand up to this contrived scandal, and we would have gladly armored up for battle.

I don’t want to hear that this is it, that after the recusal, there will surely be a line in the sand against a needless special counsel and the baseless calls for his resignation. They have made it far harder to make those assertions, and harder for many of us to believe them.

Every time a liberal on TV tosses feigned praise at Sessions for “doing the right thing,” know that the entire left smells the blood in the water—placed there by Sessions cutting himself—and that they are just getting warmed up.

The FBI and congressional committees are continuing their proper investigations. If they discover actual evidence of malfeasance, it will then become appropriate to follow where that evidence leads.

But right now it leads nowhere, and Sessions knows it. At his recusal announcement, his tone did not suggest that he dreads some damaging shoe about to drop.

That makes the recusal inexplicable, and mightily dispiriting to many Americans who voted for a fighter who would supposedly surround himself with fighters. In the years that I hope still lie ahead for him as Attorney General, Jeff Sessions will face opponents far tougher and well-armed than the ham-handed foes he has now folded in front of. Let’s hope this is the last towel he throws in.

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