So, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself. Great!
Just one question: From what?
Yes, yes, Sessions is a good and decent man. He is a scrupulous lawyer who cares about his reputation. Thus, in stark contrast to Obama administration attorneys general, he strictly applied — I’d say he hyper-applied — the ethical standard that calls on a lawyer to recuse himself from a matter in which his participation as counsel would create the mere appearance of impropriety. The standard is eminently sensible because the legitimacy of our judicial system depends not only on its actually being on the up and up but on its being perceived as such.
If it looks like you’re conflicted, you step aside, period. Simple, right? Well . . .
Much as I admire our AG’s virtue (and you know I do), let’s pause the preen parade for just a moment. There’s a tiny word in that just-described ethical standard that we need to take note of: matter. A lawyer doesn’t just recuse himself. He recuses himself from a legal matter — from participation in a case. When we are talking about the criminal law, that means recusal from a prospective prosecution. You need a crime for that. Prosecutors do not recuse themselves from fishing expeditions or partisan narratives.
So . . . what is the crime?
We need to ask this question because, rest assured, this does not end with Jeff Sessions. No more than it ended with Mike Flynn. No more than it would end if the media-Democrat complex were to obtain the much coveted scalp of Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Seb Gorka, or one of the other Beltway gate-crashers we’ve come to know over the last six improbable months. The objective is President Trump: preferably, his impeachment and removal; but second prize, his mortal political wounding by a thousand cuts just in time for 2018 and 2020, would surely do.
As I tried to explain in my book Faithless Execution (2014), impeachment cases do not just spontaneously appear. They have to be built over time, and with vigor, because most Americans — even those who oppose a president politically — do not want the wrenching divisiveness and national instability that impeachment unavoidably entails. The reluctant public must be convinced that there is urgency, that the president’s demonstrated unfitness has created a crisis that must be dealt with.
But remember: Democrats are from Mars and Republicans are from Venus.
In the matter of Barack Obama, the GOP had an actual case based on systematic executive overreach and the empowering of America’s enemies, the kind of threat to the constitutional framework that induced Madison to regard the impeachment remedy as “indispensable.” Yet agitating for upheaval is against the Republican character (a generally good trait, though paralyzing in an actual crisis). Plus, President Obama’s personal popularity always insulated the unpopularity of his agenda and bathed even his most lawless actions in a glow of good intentions. Republicans had no stomach for mentioning impeachment, much less building a case.