- Joshua Greensenior national correspondent for Bloomberg Businessweek. His new book is titled Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency.
President Trump is continuing to publicly humiliate his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who was the first senator to endorse Trump during the 2016 race. On Twitter, Trump described Sessions as “beleaguered” and “very weak.” At a press conference on Tuesday, Trump said he was “disappointed” Sessions had recused himself from the probe into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Meanwhile, Breitbart News and other right-wing outlets are openly criticizing Trump’s treatment of Sessions. We speak with Joshua Green of Bloomberg Businessweek about the latest news plus his new book, “Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency.”
AMY GOODMAN: And at the same time, you have Donald Trump attempting, clearly, to push out—a little nervous about, probably, firing the attorney general, given all the controversies of the past, but trying to put enough pressure on him, calling him “weak” and “beleaguered,” to get him out as attorney general.
JOSHUA GREEN: I don’t think that’s right. I don’t think he’s actually trying to get him out as attorney general. I think he’s trying to humiliate him publicly and at great length. But at the very beginning of this process, when Trump first started criticizing him publicly, Sessions went and offered his resignation. So, if Trump wanted him out, he’d be gone.
AMY GOODMAN: At the time.
JOSHUA GREEN: At the time.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking four months ago.
JOSHUA GREEN: True, but he still has a resignation letter from Jeff Sessions. I mean, Sessions didn’t leave his office and take that letter with him. If Trump wanted him out, he would be out. And I’ve talked to people in the White House around Trump who are very concerned about this. But they say Sessions doesn’t want to leave, and Trump isn’t inclined to fire him. So, the lesson you learn in Donald Trump’s White House—and Steve Bannon has had to endure this, now it’s Jeff Sessions’s turn—is that you’re going to be humiliated, your integrity is going to be questioned, but if you’re willing to just sit there and endure it, you can probably survive.
AMY GOODMAN: And his point? What’s Trump trying to do in humiliating him?
JOSHUA GREEN: I think assert his dominance and just express his anger. One White House adviser texted me yesterday. I said, “What is this Sessions all about? What’s the endgame?” And he said, “Well, Trump is just blowing off steam. He’s angry about the Russia investigation.” Every time there’s some new iteration—and yesterday it was his son-in-law testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee—every time there’s some new iteration, he gets angry, and he remembers that if Jeff Sessions hadn’t recused himself—or so Trump thinks—none of this would be happening. And so he goes out and humiliates him all over again.
AMY GOODMAN: So you don’t buy the idea that he wants him out, will appoint a recess appointment to be attorney general, who could then fire the special counsel, Mueller?
JOSHUA GREEN: I mean, you never want to make predictions about Donald Trump, because he could wake up and see something that enrages him on Fox & Friends, and, boom, you know, Sessions is out of there. But at least so far, among the people that I’ve talked to around Trump, no, he doesn’t seem, for whatever reason, to try and force Sessions all the way out.
AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, Sessions is clearly forging forward and, just in our headlines today, intensifying his attack on sanctuary cities, pushing through this rule that cities around the country would not be able to get something like $250 million in aid if they don’t cooperate with ICE and allow them to go into the jails, tell them when an undocumented immigrant has been held.
JOSHUA GREEN: Exactly. I mean, one of the twisted ironies of this whole situation, and the reason that you see the right-wing base aghast over this—Ann Coulter was in the White House a couple days ago, Breitbart News and Tucker Carlton and Fox News have all been very critical of Trump on this—is because Jeff Sessions is the one person in Trump’s Cabinet who’s actually managing to carry out some of his agenda, right? His legislative agenda, for the most part, is pancaking. He’s not getting anywhere. But Sessions is the most powerful law enforcement official in the land and can do a lot of things in terms of criminal justice, and especially in terms of immigration crackdown, without having to go through Congress. And so, what you see is not only are arrests of undocumented immigrants way, way up under Trump, you have the threatening statement to sanctuary cities. Jeff Sessions is also the guy who is sending new administrative judges to the U.S.-Mexico border so that they can process deportations even faster. He’s doing what it is that Trump says he wants done and railed about in his speech in Youngstown last night. And yet, the one guy who’s carrying out Trump’s agenda is also being ritually humiliated during the process. It’s twisted.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Josh, you mentioned Breitbart News. And in the next two segments, we’re going to go deeply into the man who used to be the head of it, Steve Bannon. But Breitbart News leading the charge right now to try to protect the attorney general, with Steve Bannon inside the White House doing that?
JOSHUA GREEN: I don’t think—I don’t think he needs to. Breitbart News has been aligned with Jeff Sessions and his former senior staffer now, White House senior staffer, Stephen Miller, since 2013, 2014. Back then, Jeff Sessions was the most anti-immigrant hard-liner in Congress, so much so that during the 2013 debate over bipartisan immigration reform, there were amendments offered that were so extreme that Jeff Sessions was the lone vote in the Senate to vote for them, too extreme even for hard-liners like Ted Cruz. So there is a real agreement between Breitbart and Bannon and Jeff Sessions and his staff about how to approach issues like immigration and criminal justice reform.
The fact that Sessions is being punished in the way that he is is deeply upsetting to the whole right-wing populist base, because Sessions is the avatar and the implementer of everything that they really believe in. And so, it’s almost like seeing two of your parents fighting. Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions are the politicians that these people admire, and now one of them is hitting the other and threatening to fire him from the most powerful law enforcement position in the land.
AMY GOODMAN: His great advocates in the White House, Steve Bannon and Steve Miller, as you said—Steve Miller, who was Jeff Sessions’ staffer before he joined Donald Trump on the campaign trail, warming up speeches before Trump with fiercely anti-immigrant speeches, now inside the White House with Steve Bannon.
JOSHUA GREEN: Well, in his speech in Youngstown last night, which was just macabre and bizarre, where Trump is talking about young teenage girls being slashed with knives by marauding illegal immigrants—I mean, it’s like a scene out of a horror movie—that is all Stephen Miller. And I actually interviewed Stephen Miller in February, and I said, “Why is it that the speeches you write for Trump are so dark and disturbing?” And he said, “Well, you and the mainstream media,” meaning me, “refuse to report on the crimes committed by undocumented immigrants, because you secretly support them, and, therefore, we need to heighten the contradictions and make even more vivid.” And nowhere is this more vivid than in speeches like the one that Trump gave last night.
AMY GOODMAN: And then you have Breitbart News’ headline yesterday across the homepage: “Trump vs. Trump: POTUS Endangers Immigration Agenda.”
JOSHUA GREEN: And that’s absolutely right, because Jeff Sessions is the one, A, who believes what Trump professes to believe, and believes what Breitbart’s editorial staff believes ought to be done about immigration. And here he is, not just being humiliated, but being threatened with firing. And if Sessions were to leave, it is impossible for me to imagine a replacement who could be as hawkish and as severe on immigration as Jeff Sessions is. So, by definition, if he were to leave, whoever his replacement wound up being—you know, some Fox News TV judge, or lord knows who Trump would appoint—that person would be weaker on immigration than Jeff Sessions is, from the standpoint of a Breitbart reader.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Josh Green. And we’re going to spend the rest of the hour talking about his book, Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.