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Opinion Don’t pity Jeff Sessions: It’s good if he goes

With his public slamming and shaming of him, Donald Trump has turned Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III into a figure of public sympathy. Senate colleagues and talking heads are scampering to his defence.

Well, if you admire white nationalists, if you're anti-immigrant, anti-trade, have a bigoted backstory and prefer an antediluvian judicial system, you too might want to join in on the tear-shedding.

There is no debating the unconscionably bad treatment the swamp-filling President is according his Attorney General. Mr. Trump cannot bear to not hear himself putting down others. Republican legislators are correct to defend Mr. Sessions, who was right, having held meetings with the Kremlin's ambassador, to recuse himself from deliberations on the Russian election meddling controversy.

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But if Mr. Sessions exits the Trump cabinet, it is a good thing. On the policy side, he is one of the most retrograde at the Trump table. From a Canadian point of view, he represents beliefs that are anathema to the Trudeau government and about 90 per cent of the population.

Trump and Russia: A guide to the many investigations into 2016's election-meddling

The Alabamian is a foremost ally of Steve Bannon, the hardline America-firster who was the President's top strategist but who, to the relief of partisans of post-18th century values, has seen his influence shrink in recent months. The more moderately-inclined in the Trump circle such as economic adviser Gary Cohn, daughter Ivanka Trump and several on Mr. Trump's foreign policy team have gained the upper hand. Mr. Sessions's leaving would accelerate the trend.

The President last week brought in Wall Streeter Anthony Scaramucci as his communications director. He has a liberal background. Mr. Bannon strongly opposed the appointment.

The Sessions-Bannon connection goes back to well before the 2016 election. Mr. Sessions shared his white nationalist vision in interviews on Mr. Bannon's Breitbart network. At Mr. Bannon's urging, he became the first senator to endorse Mr. Trump for the presidency. It was a big gamble. But when Mr. Trump won, Mr. Sessions and Mr. Bannon were in the catbird seats. Not so anymore.

As a senator, Mr. Sessions was staunchly anti-immigrant. He spoke out in favour of draconian 1924 immigration quotas which banned immigration from most of Asia. As Attorney General, he has espoused a new pitiless war on drugs and a brutal lock-'em-up crime policy that reverses reforms of the Obama administration, which were said to be effective in bringing down the prison population. In 1986, a Senate committee denied Mr. Sessions a federal judgeship in the wake of testimony from former colleagues about bigoted behaviour on his part.

With his battering ram tweet storm against Mr. Sessions, Mr. Trump has shown that he is capable of an appalling level of disloyalty. He appears to have damaged, if not poisoned, his relations with Congressional Republicans whose support he needs. And he has yet again made it look as though he is desperate to get the Russian inquisitors off his trail, leaving the impression that he does indeed have much to hide.

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No president or prime minister has ever publicly belittled a sitting cabinet secretary in such fashion. Other leaders have doubtlessly had similar feelings about team members but have been sensible enough to keep them out of the public realm. Even Breitbart, Fox's Tucker Carlson and Rush Limbaugh, who called the matter "unseemly," have spoken out against the President on this one.

House Speaker Paul Ryan was one of the few to curry White House favour. President Trump is "the executive branch. We're the legislative branch. He determines who is hired and fired in the executive branch – that's his prerogative," Mr. Ryan told reporters on Tuesday.

Mr. Scaramucci said Mr. Trump needs a defender, "a pretty good hockey goalie," someone, he said, with the relationship like the one Bobby Kennedy had with his brother John.

Indeed, the best of goaltenders would be useful. But Mr. Sessions is too tarnished by the Trump attacks to play that role. If he stays on and legislates his beliefs as Attorney General, he would be too damaging in other respects as well.

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