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Post-Mueller, Trump Advisers May Indulge Worst Impulses

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Other moves to dump Sessions also collapsed, due to the staff’s reluctance to follow through.

Aboard Marine One in July, 2017, Trump told Priebus that he needed to get Sessions’ resignation “immediately.”

Priebus replied that it was a bad idea and that both Congress and the Justice Department would balk. He privately talked it over with McGahn and they both said  they would quit rather than carry out an order to fire Sessions.

Discussing the attorney general’s fate later in the day, Priebus told the president it would be a “calamity” to lose Sessions because it would trigger a series of high-level resignations at the Justice Department.  After a few days, Trump cooled off and agreed to let Sessions remain for the time being.

But Trump wasn’t satisfied. And so Trump has given his top staff a makeover, replacing more independent-minded aides with acolytes. Priebus was ousted in July 2017 after just six months on the job. Porter departed in February 2018 amid a controversy over domestic abuse allegations. McGahn left last summer.

After Sessions was fired last fall, Trump gave the attorney general job to William Barr, who has appeared more attentive to Trump’s wishes and political needs. In his news conference Thursday before the report was released, Barr parroted Trump’s talking point that there was “no collusion” with Russia. He also took pains to explain Trump’s behavior, invoking a favorite target: the press.

Barr said “there was relentless speculation in the news media about the President’s personal culpability. Yet, as he said from the beginning, there was in fact no collusion.”

“Barr comes across more as a loyal foot soldier in Trump’s army than an independent attorney general,” said Richard Hasen, a professor at UC Irvine School of Law.

Not trusting the redactions Barr made, Democrats plan to subpoena the complete Mueller report. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, told reporters Thursday that Mueller’s report amounted to a “roadmap” to investigate whether Trump obstructed justice. He wants Mueller to testify before his panel.

Trump’s latest chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, is a former conservative congressman from South Carolina, who has made clear he isn’t about to police the West Wing. “You’re all adults,” he told the White House staff, according to a New York Times report. “You all have relationships with him.”

For secretary of state, Trump last year tapped Mike Pompeo, a loyalist who the president has welcomed into his inner circle.

Illustrating the relentless demands Trump made on aides to do his bidding, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gave a December interview in which he seemed to foreshadow Mueller’s findings.

“So often, the president would say here’s what I want to do and here’s how I want to do it and I would have to say to him, ‘Mr. President I understand what you want to do but you can’t do it that way. It violates the law.’”

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