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Allegra Kirkland

Allegra Kirkland is a New York-based reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked on The Nation’s web team and as the associate managing editor for AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @allegrakirkland.

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In just a little over a year, Reince Priebus went from respected GOP statesman to a discarded refugee of the Trump administration.

The road along the way has been paved with unending humiliations for the former Republican National Committee chairman.

Priebus was publicly undermined by President Donald Trump; overridden on staffing decisions by staffers junior to his position as chief of staff; and blamed by Trump’s base and the media for his failure to control the chaos in the West Wing and help shepherd legislation through Congress.

Setting aside his years of work to rebrand the Republican Party as one embracing of religious and ethnic minorities, Priebus gamely defended Trump administration policies like the travel ban against several majority-Muslim countries. He backed Trump’s musings about suing the press, and insisted reports of West Wing discord were “fake news.”

Then his turn finally came. The Trump family punching bag’s tenure in the White House puttered out on Friday as he was driven away from Joint Base Andrews in the rain, having just been publicly replaced by the President on Twitter. That night, Priebus would go on Hannity to earnestly thank his former boss for letting him go.

These are some of the worst humiliations Priebus endured since planting himself in Trump’s orbit.

Insisting he was not drinking booze for breakfast

Priebus had the unenviable task of leading his party through a painful, packed primary campaign with Trump at its helm. While the frontrunner gleefully lobbed bombs about the “rigged” process against him, Priebus worked to convince “Never Trump” donors and wary Republicans to unite behind Trump as best as possible.

“People assume oh, are you – you must be miserable. You’ve got a horrible job. But I don’t see it that way,” Priebus said in an April 2016 interview with CNN. “I’m not pouring Bailey’s in my cereal, I’m not sitting here trying to find a Johnnie Walker.”

Exactly what someone considering pouring Bailey’s in his cereal might say.

Fighting a Fox News host about Trump’s inauguration size

Shortly after Trump’s swearing-in, Priebus went on Fox News to lie to dispute photographic evidence that the President’s inauguration crowd was not, as he insisted, the largest in history. Host Chris Wallace, who was also in attendance, wasn’t having it.

“I was there on the Mall!” Wallace said, speaking over Priebus.
“I mean let me say first of all I think this is a ridiculous conversation, but there were huge areas. He said there were crowds all the way to the Washington Monument.”

“There was,” Priebus said. “I was sitting there.”

“Reince, there weren’t,” Wallace said, baffled.

Constant rumors of his departure started early

Rumors that Priebus would soon be dismissed started circulating within weeks of Trump taking office. In February, Newsmax CEO and Trump pal Chris Ruddy blamed Priebus for the botched rollout of the travel ban, calling him “way over his head.”

These rumors and comments from Trump allies would resurface any time the White House got into trouble. Priebus drew blame for the House’s failed first effort to repeal Obamacare and the torrent of leaks that have flooded from the West Wing since January. An entire genre of stories emerged of the Trump family reportedly tearing Priebus down to the President behind closed doors.

Asked the DOJ and FBI to quash negative stories

In one of his most outrageous moves in office, Priebus reportedly asked a top FBI official to dispute press reports that Trump campaign associates were in frequent touch with Russian officials during the campaign. Such requests would violate policies strictly limiting DOJ and White House communications, particularly about issues related to ongoing investigations.

But Priebus openly bragged about the calls on cable news, saying he’d heard from “
the top levels of the intelligence community” that the stories were false.

Serving as the President’s personal exterminator

Trump would occasionally ask Priebus to carry out tasks that would be cruel to give to an intern, like serving as Oval Office exterminator. He once summoned his chief of staff to the room in the middle of a meeting to kill a fly that was distracting him from the business at hand, the Washington Post reported Friday.

Getting the full Scaramucci treatment in the press

Priebus reportedly lost what was a six-month battle to keep Anthony Scaramucci out of the White House with his appointment last week as communications director. Furthermore, the President made clear, Scaramucci would report directly to him.

Scaramucci spent his fist week on the job eagerly shredding Priebus in the press. This culminated with an astonishing New Yorker interview in which the communications director trashed the chief of staff as a “fucking paranoid schizophrenic” and threatened to sic the FBI and DOJ against him for leaking to the press.

Scaramucci also compared the two to Biblical brothers Cain and Abel, without mentioning that one ultimately killed the other. In the hours after Priebus was forced from the West Wing for good, Twitter was filled with cracks about Cain vanquishing his brother.

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In a rebuke to President Donald Trump, multiple police departments have condemned a Friday speech he made endorsing the rough treatment of suspected criminals and gang members.

During the anti-gang violence address in Brentwood, New York, a small hamlet on Long Island, Trump drew laughter and applause from the police officers present when he called for them to not be “too nice” to those they arrest, even urging them to hit their heads against squad cars.

The chilling remarks and appreciative response from the officers prompted the Suffolk County Police Department to issue an apology.

“The SCPD has strict rules & procedures relating to the handling of prisoners,” the department wrote on Twitter. “Violations of those rules are treated extremely seriously.”

“As a department, we do not and will not tolerate roughing up of prisoners,” read a second tweet.

The police department in Gainesville, Florida issued an even harsher condemnation, claiming that the President “endorsed and condoned police brutality.”

“The @POTUS made remarks today that endorsed and condoned police brutality,” the department wrote in a Friday tweet. “GPD rejects these remarks and continues to serve with respect.”

The gang speech was just the President’s latest endorsement of physical violence against those detained by law enforcement. On the campaign trail, Trump often called for federal agents to use measures “worse than waterboarding,” or simulated drowning, against suspected terrorists.

These apologies also mark the second time in a week that an organization that invited the President to speak has had to contradict his message. After Trump discussed the 2016 election and complained about former President Obama during a Tuesday address at the annual Boy Scout Jamboree, the organization’s chief issued a statement lamenting that “politics were inserted” into the traditionally non-partisan event.

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President Donald Trump’s armchair quarterbacking of the Obamacare repeal-and replace-process seem to have hurt more than it helped, but that doesn’t mean he’s giving up.

In a fusillade of Saturday morning tweets, Trump urged the Republican Senate to abolish the filibuster rule and stop “wasting time” on healthcare and other legislative matters.

“Republican Senate must get rid of 60 vote NOW! It is killing the R Party, allows 8 Dems to control country,” Trump wrote in the first of five tweets, telling congressional Republicans that they “look like fools.”

The President’s complaints ignore the fact that the GOP-controlled Senate only needs 51 votes to pass a healthcare replacement through reconciliation. They most recently failed to reach that threshold in the early hours of Friday morning, when Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and John McCain (R-AZ) voted against what became known as the “skinny repeal” bill.

Trump’s arguments also elide the fact that he claimed, after the latest legislative failure, that he “said from the beginning” that the GOP should simply let Obamacare “implode.” Since taking office, the President has toggled between arguing that the Senate must take urgent action and insisting that Obamacare should be allowed to fail, forcing Democrats to work on a replacement.

Congressional Republicans appear exasperated with his aggressive tactics and failure to market their replacement to American voters.

Murkowski was unswayed by Trump’s personal attacks against her this week, while those attacks, and his impromptu decision to ban transgender people from the military, reportedly incensed McCain, who ultimately cast the deciding vote on so-called “skinny repeal.”

“It’s time to move on” from healthcare, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced after this week’s defeat.

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The former White House chief of staff insisted in a Friday night interview that his ouster by President Donald Trump “is actually a good thing.”

“I’m feeling good about the fact that he’s making a change that makes him comfortable with moving forward,” Reince Priebus told Fox News’ Sean Hannity in what has become a routine interview stop for those who depart the Trump administration.

In a prolonged sit-down with the Fox host and diehard Trump ally, Priebus lavished praise on the President and promised he will “be on Team Trump all the time.”

It was an inglorious swan song for the former Republican National Committee chairman and senior Trump official, whose control over the White House staff was tenuous from the start.

On Friday, after months of swirling rumors, Trump announced on Twitter that former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Gen. John Kelly would replace Priebus as chief of staff. That announcement was tweeted out from Air Force One as Priebus was still waiting on the tarmac at Joint Base Andrews after accompanying the President to Long Island, New York for an aggressive anti-gang speech. Priebus departed from the scene alone.

On both CNN and to Hannity, Priebus insisted that he was not fired and instead resigned on Thursday evening after days of discussion with Trump.

“I think the president wanted to go in a different direction. I support him on that. The president has a right to hit a reset button,” Priebus said, calling Trump a “friend” and “a good man.”

“(Trump) has the best political instincts,” Priebus told CNN. “He knows, I think, intuitively, when things need to change. He intuitively determined that it was time to do something differently and I think it was right.”

His departure comes with the rise of new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, who has publicly smeared Priebus to the media on multiple occasions and blamed him for the flood of leaks emanating from the White House.

In an instant classic of an interview with the New Yorker, Scaramucci called Priebus a “fucking paranoid schizophrenic” who was upset about not having been invited to a dinner with the President, ousted Fox News executive Bill Shine , and Hannity himself earlier in the week.

Priebus refused to get “in the mud” by discussing Scaramucci, calling “the palace intrigue stuff” an “annoying” “distraction” from the President’s agenda.

He also parroted the administration line on topics from the investigation of Russian collusion with the Trump campaign (“ridiculous”) to the dishonesty of what they called the “fake” news media.

Watch the full interview below.

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Anthony Scaramucci’s first week as White House communications director has been one for the history books.

The former hedge fund manager publicly aired his feud with Chief of Staff Reince Priebus in a vivid and profanity-laced rant to The New Yorker, and he also threatened first to fire, then to “kill,” the entire White House communications department.

In tweets and near-daily TV appearances, Scaramucci has bragged about using the Justice Department and FBI as a private law enforcement arm, saying he has personally requested that they hunt down West Wing leakers (such contacts would be a violation of White House and DOJ contact policy, former DOJ officials say).

He’s also displayed a stunning lack of familiarity with what qualifies as a leak, lashing out over rumors that a former assistant press secretary would be fired after he broke that news himself and railing against the “leak” of his financial disclosure form, which is a public document.

In just seven days, Scaramucci has taken the inward, disciplined role of communications director and turned it outwards, laying the chaos of the back-stabbing administration bare (he describes himself as the “front-stabbing” type).

Trump is reportedly unfussed by the drama, and apparently wanted Scaramucci, who has no communications experience, in the job precisely because he served as a smooth television surrogate for his administration.

Meanwhile, former White House communications and press staffers are horrified.

“To me it seems like he’s trying to come in as gangbusters and try to show the strength of his relationship with the President and also show the President that he’s got his back and is really looking out for him,” a former press office official in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, who requested anonymity to offer candid professional judgment, told TPM. “But that’s not the way to do it, and he’s actually undermining the message the President wants to get out because he’s called attention to himself with all the statements that he’s made. He’s becoming the story.”

Becoming a media character is sacrilege in political communications and in the White House in general, where staffers are supposed to focus on advancing the President’s agenda behind the scenes. Traditionally, press secretaries and their deputies take on the outward-facing duties of press briefings and day-to-day interactions with reporters, while communications directors focus on long-term strategy.

“It tells me that he’s not doing the planning and the plotting out of how are they going to support the President’s agenda, how are they going to define the agenda and communicate it to the public,” Ellen Moran, a former communications director for President Barack Obama, told TPM of Scaramucci’s frequent appearances as a media “combatant.”

“There’s significant risk that whatever structure is there to enact policy and actually do the functions of agenda-setting are on the verge of completely breaking down, if they haven’t already,” Moran added.

As he himself has said, Scaramucci seems to see his role as a mouthpiece for Trump, advocating his policies in the public square and taking out any staffers who undermine the President’s authority. His frequent insistence on his close relationship with Trump has already created some headaches; he told Fox News that they had discussed the President’s ability to pardon himself, while one of the private lawyers representing Trump in the investigation into Russia’s interference in the election said that the team had never discussed pardons with the President.

Previous press staff have cautioned against taking such a personal, news-generating approach.

Calling Scaramucci an “excellent spokesman & fighter for POTUS,” Ari Fleischer, press secretary for George W. Bush, issued a warning on Twitter: “Beware of how much PR you’re generating. #AskIcarus”

Other Bush administration veterans had harsher reviews for Scaramucci’s brief tenure, particularly in the wake of his jaw-dropping New Yorker interview, in which he accused chief strategist Steve Bannon of attempting to suck his “own cock” through media self-promotion.

“HOLY SHIT! Are the only words that come to mind after reading this,” Steve Schmidt, GOP communications operative and deputy assistant to former Vice President Dick Cheney, said in a tweet about the interview. “What a desecration of the dignity of the office of President of the US.”

“Free advice @Scaramucci : stop tweeting. Stop blaming,” Nicolle Wallace, Bush’s communications director, wrote in a tweet. “Get yourself together + vow to do better.”

For the moment, Scaramucci seems to have taken the hint. Boarding Air Force One Friday for a trip to Long Island, New York with White House staffers including Priebus, Scaramucci was asked about their feud.

“Better not to comment,” a subdued Scaramucci reportedly said.

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White House staffers aren’t supposed to just call up the Justice Department or FBI and complain about a personal grievance. Yet that is exactly what newly-minted Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci claimed to have done during a combative Thursday morning CNN interview, disclosing that he had contacted Attorney General Jeff Sessions and various “buddies” in the FBI over his concerns about leaks coming from senior White House staff.

“You know why I like bringing up the Department of Justice and the FBI?” Scaramucci said. “Because people who’ve done something wrong, it makes ‘em nervous.”

These comments came hours after Scaramucci offered an expletive-filled rant to New Yorker reporter Ryan Lizza about how he believed his rival, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, was behind the latest leak, and that he’d “called the FBI and the Department of Justice” about this “felony.”

Setting aside that his concerns were sparked by misplaced anger over reporting on his financial disclosure form, which is a publicly available document, the Scaramucci kerfuffle marked just the latest example of a member of the Trump administration attempting to use the Justice Department as something of a personal enforcement arm. President Donald Trump has been the most public face of this norm-shattering: the FBI director he fired, James Comey, testified that the President asked him to swear his loyalty and end a federal investigation into ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Contacts like Scaramucci’s run up again longstanding, binding regulations that strictly limit contact between the White House and Justice Department. Since the Watergate era, each new attorney general and each White House general counsel has laid out an updated version of their contact policy, dictating that only senior members of each body may be in contact with each other about investigations, and even then only in very specific instances.

Kenneth Starr, the former independent counsel who led investigations into President Bill Clinton, laid out the importance of this division in a Thursday Washington Post op-ed.

“The attorney general is not—and cannot be—the president’s ‘hockey goalie,’ as new White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci described Sessions’s job,” Starr wrote. “In fact, the President isn’t even his client. To the contrary, the attorney general’s client is ultimately ‘We the People,’ and his fidelity has to be not to the president but to the Constitution and other laws of the United States.”

Thomas Perrelli, former associate U.S. attorney general under President Barack Obama, told TPM that communications with the White House would occur in cases where the DOJ was defending government policies or where there were national security implications.

“With respect to law enforcement matters, pending investigations, that pretty much never happened,” Perrelli said. “If the White House said ‘I would like to get briefed on what is going on with respect to x criminal investigation,’ the answer would be no.”

“It just does not occur in your normal criminal probe, and it also has to be appropriate from a law enforcement perspective so if you’re investigating people in the White House, it’s probably never appropriate,” Perrelli said. As Trump’s inner circle has made very clear, the administration does believe many of the most damning leaks about the President and his policies are coming from inside the White House itself.

Trump’s White House counsel, Don McGahn, laid out his own contact policy in a Jan. 27 memo. Sessions has not yet crafted one for his DOJ, meaning former Attorney General Eric Holder’s remains the binding standard.

The communications director is not on either list of individuals approved to contact law enforcement officials. Nor is there any mention of the FBI at all, as Allison Murphy, counsel at United to Protect Democracy, a government transparency organization, pointed out.

“Only the senior leadership of the DOJ are permitted to speak with only a few people at the White House when it comes to specific investigations or prosecutions,” Murphy noted. “And nobody at the FBI is included in that list.”

Asked about his potential violation of the contact policy during Thursday’s press briefing, Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said only, “I’m not going to speak about conversations between cabinet members and other individuals that I wasn’t a part of and haven’t had a chance to talk to either individual about.”

The DOJ did not respond to TPM’s request for comment on the conversation Scaramucci said he had with Sessions, but issued a statement Wednesday night saying the agency planned to “aggressively purse leak cases wherever they may lead.”

“We agree with Anthony that these staggering number of leaks are undermining the ability of our government to function and to protect this country,” department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said in the statement.

Further complicating the contacts Scaramucci said he had with DOJ is that it appears he’s not even a formal member of the Trump White House yet. When he came onboard last week, he announced he would not formally assume his post until Aug. 15, pending the approval of the sale of his investment firm, SkyBridge Capital (Huckabee Sanders said Thursday she doesn’t believe he’s yet taken an oath of office). The Justice Department has a seat on the committee responsible for approving that deal, the Treasury Department-led Committee on Foreign Investments in the U.S.

There is also Sessions’ tenuous position, as Trump and his staffers have shellacked him in the press as insufficiently loyal and a “disappointment” because of his recusal from the Russia investigation.

Combined, these circumstances are ripe for abuses of power, Matthew Miller, a former director of the DOJ’s Office of Public Affairs under Obama, told TPM.

“You have Sessions probably feeling a little like he wants to curry favor with the President and he can do that by starting leak investigations, or by approving this sale that would put millions of dollars into Scaramucci’s pocket” and allow the communications director to fully move into his White House role, Miller said.

The DOJ has in recent days signaled that it plans to pursue an intensive criminal investigation of intelligence leaks, as the President has requested. Though the Obama administration also aggressively pursued leakers, this marks a radical break in how leak investigations are carried out. Instead of analyzing referrals from security agencies or pursuing specific leak probe requests based on their gravity and type, as Miller said had been the precedent, Trump’s DOJ appears to be embarking on a full-scale investigation into leaks of sensitive information to the press.

“The DOJ is not supposed to make assessments based on general complaints from the White House communications director,” Miller said, “but when you have an AG fighting for his job and unwilling to fight for the department’s independence, it brings all this into question.”

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President Donald Trump is still mulling what to do about Jeff Sessions, but congressional Republicans, pro-Trump journalists and members of his own administration are sending increasingly explicit signals that firing the man Trump referred to as his “beleaguered” attorney general would spark a riot in the GOP.

New reports out Wednesday night from the Washington Post and New York Times suggest that outpouring of support renders Sessions’ job safe for the moment, and that Trump’s continued jabs are just a way for the frustrated President to put Sessions firmly in his place.

But he does not appear quite ready to let Sessions off the hook for his decision to recuse himself from the federal investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. The Post reported that Trump has spoken to advisers about installing a new attorney general when Congress is out for August recess, which would allow the appointee to skirt around Senate confirmation and serve through the end of 2017.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle already have signaled that they would use procedural maneuvers to block such a plan. In a Wednesday evening tweet, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said that his panel’s schedule was already full and would not consider hearings for a new attorney general.

“AG no way,” he wrote.

The White House sent the Post a brief statement from Trump denying that he was considering a recess appointment.

“More fake news from the Amazon Washington Post,” the President said, referring to the fact that the newspaper is owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

Sessions, for his part, apparently got the message about Trump’s simmering anger. He has stayed away from the press except to float the rollout of several new policies guaranteed to please the President. These include cutting off federal funding for sanctuary cities that don’t allow federal immigration agents to enter their prisons and jails and a new crackdown on intelligence leaks.

Sessions is headed for a temporary respite from the political heat in Washington, as he’s scheduled to spend the next few days in El Salvador, where the Associated Press reported he is expected to meet with lawmakers to discuss ways to eradicate gang violence.

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President Donald Trump’s core supporters are upset.

Arch-conservative lawmakers, pro-Trump publications and even members of his own staff are sounding off about the President’s ongoing attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, questioning why he would turn against his most faithful lieutenant.

Trump feels justified in doing so, complaining on Twitter and to the press about Sessions’ “unfair” decision to recuse himself from the federal investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election—a move that he believes paved the way for the appointment of a special counsel. But no one in Trump’s Cabinet has done more to advance his anti-immigrant, pro-policing agenda than Sessions, and losing his ideologically-aligned attorney general risks compromising the promises Trump made to his most faithful supporters. With his approval numbers in the gutter and sinking even among Republican voters, that’s a risk Trump can hardly afford to take.

The President’s public criticism of his “beleaguered” attorney general began in earnest during an interview last week with the New York Times, and has flowed forth almost daily since then. In a Tuesday press conference with the prime minister of Lebanon, Trump refused to say if he would fire Sessions, saying only: “Time will tell.”

Sessions’ supporters have rushed to the barricades in his defense. Far-right site Breitbart News, a cheerleader of the Trump campaign and White House, has published a slew of articles with headlines like “Jeff Sessions’ Tenure at DOJ Marked by Progress on President Trump’s America First Agenda” and “Jeff Sessions: A Man Who Embodies the Movement That Elected Donald Trump President.” The site’s former chairman-turned-chief White House strategist, Steve Bannon, has reportedly tried to convince Trump to tone done his critiques, as have policy advisor Stephen Miller and White House deputy chief of staff Rick Dearborn, both of whom previously worked for Sessions.

“I hate to see him being treated this way,” conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh despaired, while far-right, anti-immigrant pundit Ann Coulter told the Washington Post that Trump needed to “be a man” about the situation, calling his behavior towards Sessions “treacherous.”

Sessions’ former colleagues on Capitol Hill, where he served for two decades as a senator from Alabama, have also offered full-throated defenses.

“I’m 100 percent for the President, but I really have a hard time with this,” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) told McClatchy.

“Attorney General Sessions has been a friend for years and he was a friend to the President before anyone,” echoed Rep. David Brat (R-VA). “He’s the most loyal, affable, respectable man you could ever have in that position.”

“There is no better man than Jeff Sessions, and no greater supporter…of [President #Trump’s] agenda,” former U.S. senator and tea party leader Jim DeMint said in a roundtable on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”

Sessions’ allies have plenty of evidence to point to: in his six months in office, he’s fought on behalf of Trump’s efforts to ban immigrants and refugees from a handful of majority-Muslim countries and said his Justice Department “looks forward” to arguing the case in court. He rescinded an Obama-era regulation protecting transgender students from discrimination and moved forward with a number of policy shifts supported by police unions. Sessions even wrote a memo supporting the firing of FBI director James Comey months after recusing himself from overseeing any issue related to the 2016 campaign, including the federal Russia probe.

In the last 24 hours, Sessions’ DOJ has announced plans to cut federal funding for so-called sanctuary cities that refuse to allow Immigration Customs and Enforcement agents into their prisons and jails. He is also expected to announce stepped-up efforts to pursue leak investigations. Both are issues Trump has heavily promoted.

Even the criticism Trump keeps making of Sessions, that he did not pursue investigations into Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server as secretary of state, appears unfounded.

“Sessions was literally just following Trump’s lead on that,” Josh Hammer, a member of the conservative Federalist Society who’s served as a law clerk for Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), told TPM. “Trump could not have been more explicit in the aftermath of the election that the whole ‘lock her up’ thing was just a campaign cry, and that he was not actually going to pursue that once he got into office.”

Two weeks after the election, Trump had said prosecuting Clinton was “just not something that I feel very strongly about.”

The near-universal pushback from his most ardent supporters does not seem to have made an impact on the President yet. In a Tuesday interview with the Wall Street Journal, he argued that Sessions only became the first senator to endorse his candidacy because of his large crowd sizes and said it was not “like a great, loyal thing.”

And on Wednesday morning, Trump fired off two new tweets disparaging his Attorney General—while Sessions was reportedly inside the White House.

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Asked about President Donald Trump’s barrage of attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, conservative lawyers and legal experts exhausted the synonyms for the word “crazy.”

“The President clearly has lost his mind,” Richard Epstein, one of the country’s preeminent scholars on classical liberalism and a Trump opponent, told TPM on Tuesday.

“Just plain nuts,” “bizarre,” “really weird” and “pathological” were among the expressions of open disbelief from other Republican and libertarian legal minds about the fact that Trump is on a campaign to publicly malign the head of his own Justice Department and one of his earliest presidential backers.

By now, Trump’s disregard for norms and the ease with which he boots out subordinates deemed insufficiently loyal are well-documented. But these experts say that Trump is moving into uncharted territory that undermines both the independence of the Justice Department and the viability of his own administration.

“It’s the way you deal with a subordinate on a reality show, not in an actually functioning organization,” Jonathan Adler, a Case Western Reserve University Law School professor who has criticized Trump in the past, said of the President’s behavior, adding that it compromises the Justice Department’s ability to “achieve the rest of Trump’s agenda.”

The President has recently lashed out at his attorney general by sending tweets calling Sessions “beleaguered” and “VERY weak” for declining to pursue investigations into his Democratic presidential opponent, Hillary Clinton; by dispatching senior staffers to tell national press outlets that he wants Sessions gone; and by floating possible replacements with his inner circle.

During a Tuesday afternoon chat with the Wall Street Journal, Trump said he was “very disappointed” in Sessions and acknowledged he was “looking at” removing him from office.

Behind Trump’s long-simmering rage is Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the federal investigation into Russia’s interference in the election and other matters related to the 2016 campaign. Trump believes Robert Mueller’s appointment as special counsel can be traced back to that move, as he told The New York Times last week in an extraordinary interview.

Sessions has said that he plans to continue serving “as long as that is appropriate,” leaving the decision to oust him in Trump’s hands. Why the President is embarking on a public smear campaign instead of wielding his authority to simply fire his attorney general remains unclear.

“There’s a rational theory and there’s a theory that just makes no sense,” Al Latham, a Trump critic who worked on civil rights issues for the Reagan administration, told TPM. “The rational one is that if Sessions quits rather than being fired and then Trump uses that to take steps to fire Mueller by appointing a new Attorney General it looks less like obstruction of justice.”

“Then there’s a theory that simply makes no sense at all,” he continued, “that for whatever reason this is who Trump is, this is how Trump does things, and he has no sense of limits, boundaries or propriety.”

Trump has taken such a norm-shattering step before: firing FBI Director James Comey because he disapproved of Comey’s handling of what he called “the Russia thing.” These efforts to get rid of the individuals with oversight of the federal investigation into Russia’s election meddling make him look suspicious even to those individuals who believe there is nothing behind that probe.

“I continue to think that the Russia stuff is a bunch of mostly hot air, but Trump continues to act like something to hide with his neuroses about the process,” Josh Hammer, a member of the conservative Federalist Society who’s served as a law clerk for Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), said of the possibility of Sessions’ departure. “For someone who a lot of us continue to think probably has nothing to hide, he sure as hell acts like he does.”

Whether Sessions is dismissed or resigns, the experts agreed that his’ current situation is untenable. If he departed, Session would either be replaced by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who assumed oversight of the Russia probe after Sessions’ recusal and has also taken heat from Trump, or by a new attorney general appointed by Trump who would need Senate approval.

Adler noted that Rosenstein is “less pliable and certainly less loyal to Trump as an individual” than Sessions, and that anyone else who Trump nominated to lead the DOJ would face a grueling confirmation process at the mercy of senators eager to ensure that individual would not do Trump’s bidding.

Epstein noted there would be few candidates willing to replace Sessions after watching him endure prolonged public humiliation. He characterized working directly for Trump as an experience equivalent to putting “your head into a meat grinder” and a threat to “sanity and sobriety.”

The “strongest reason” why Trump wouldn’t fire Sessions, Epstein believes, “is that he can’t find anyone to replace him. He literally can’t find anyone who will do that job.”

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When he meets with Senate investigators this week, Paul Manafort is expected to provide contemporaneous notes he took during a June 2016 meeting billed as part of the Russian government’s effort to help the Trump campaign, Politico reported.

An anonymous source “close to the investigation” told Politico that the former Trump campaign chairman is expected to answer questions from the Senate Intelligence Committee about the Trump Tower meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya. Donald Trump, Jr. and Jared Kushner were also in attendance.

Separately, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday announced that it had issued a subpoena to compel Manafort to testify at a public hearing Wednesday.

“Mr. Manafort, through his attorney, said that he would be willing to provide only a single transcribed interview to Congress, which would not be available to the Judiciary Committee members or staff,” committee chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) wrote in a bipartisan statement about the subpoena order.

“While the Judiciary Committee was willing to cooperate on equal terms with any other committee to accommodate Mr. Manafort’s request, ultimately that was not possible.”

The Judiciary Committee is probing whether Manafort improperly failed to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act for lobbying work he did on behalf of a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party.

The Intelligence Committee is conducting a wide-ranging investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and whether Trump’s campaign facilitated those efforts.

Kushner and Trump Jr. also are meeting with congressional investigators behind closed doors this week to discuss their involvement in the Trump Tower rendezvous, which was pitched as an opportunity to obtain damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

Read the full statement from the Senate Judiciary Committee below:

Washington—Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) last night issued a subpoena to compel Paul Manafort’s presence at a public Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday regarding enforcement of the Foreign Agents Registration Act and attempts to influence U.S. elections.

Grassley and Feinstein made the following comment:

“While we were willing to accommodate Mr. Manafort’s request to cooperate with the committee’s investigation without appearing at Wednesday’s hearing, we were unable to reach an agreement for a voluntary transcribed interview with the Judiciary Committee.

“Mr. Manafort, through his attorney, said that he would be willing to provide only a single transcribed interview to Congress, which would not be available to the Judiciary Committee members or staff. While the Judiciary Committee was willing to cooperate on equal terms with any other committee to accommodate Mr. Manafort’s request, ultimately that was not possible.

“Therefore, yesterday evening, a subpoena was issued to compel Mr. Manafort’s participation in Wednesday’s hearing. As with other witnesses, we may be willing to excuse him from Wednesday’s hearing if he would be willing to agree to production of documents and a transcribed interview, with the understanding that the interview would not constitute a waiver of his rights or prejudice the committee’s right to compel his testimony in the future.”

Correction: This story wrongly identified the committee Manafort would turn his meeting notes over to as the Senate Judiciary Committee. He is expected to meet with investigators with the Senate Intelligence Committee. TPM regrets the error.

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