Donald Trump finally got his wall.
No, Mexico didn’t pay for it; it’s not that wall. But Trump got the wall he really needed most — a rock-solid stonewall, built for him Tuesday by Alabama’s Jeff Sessions, who was the first (and for most of the campaign the only) U.S. senator to endorse Trump. Sessions was rewarded by becoming Trump’s attorney general; but it’s a reward that hasn’t always seemed so rewarding.
On Tuesday, Sessions raised his right hand and swore to tell the Senate Intelligence Committee the whole truth — but then mainly gave sworn non-testimony. Sessions stonewalled questions about him and Trump discussing contacts with Russia before, during or after Russia attacked America’s democracy with cyber weapons. He also rebuffed queries about why Trump really fired FBI Director James Comey, who was investigating all the above.
Sessions seems to have stonewalled the senators with two purposes: (1) to loyally protect his boss; and (2) in a desperate bid to save his own job (see 1).
Here’s the background: Trump has reportedly been furious ever since Sessions recused himself from any role in the FBI’s Russia probe on the legally common sense grounds that, since he was the chairman of the Trump campaign’s national security operation, he shouldn’t oversee or have any role in an investigation of himself. Trump apparently couldn’t understand that.
So in the days before last week’s hearing, Trump calculatedly manipulated Sessions with the skill of a fine puppeteer. Trump has always liked to publicly proclaim that he is all about loyalty. But ultimately, Trump is mainly all about Trump.
Day after day, prior to Sessions’ Senate appearance, Trump coldly refused to say (and ordered his spokespeople to refuse to say) whether he still had confidence in Sessions as his attorney general. It was an act of presidential spanksmanship that went far beyond anything Washington has seen in the modern era.
Day after day, Sessions endured his embarrassment. Sessions reportedly offered to resign; Trump didn’t accept. He had other plans. And on testimony day, Sessions sought to prove his loyalty by building Trump’s wall, stone by stone.
The well-orchestrated performance allowed Trump to avoid looking guilty of whatever by having to claim executive privilege to stop Sessions from testifying to anything the two of them might have discussed about this Russia thing. Or whether — as Trump himself bizarrely confessed publicly — the real reason the FBI chief was fired was because he insisted on pursuing Team Trump’s Russia connections.
Sessions stonewalled. He flat-out refused to answer any questions about what he and Trump discussed — even though Trump wasn’t claiming executive privilege.
“I believe the American people have had it with stonewalling,” erupted Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., as his side’s questions were non-answered. “We are talking about an attack on our democratic institutions, and stonewalling of any kind is unacceptable.”
Finally, it seems Alabama’s proud son may have earned the right to stay on as Trump’s attorney general. Loyal is as loyal does.
Martin Schram, a columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.