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Trump and Sessions: In a relationship — and it's complicated

Stephanie Akin, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- When Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced last week that the Trump administration would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, he was also signaling a new act in one of the summer's most riveting political dramas.

Sessions had been considered a dead man walking since mid-July, when Trump began berating him in interviews and on social media for his decision to recuse himself from the investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Yet here he was, on a podium, serving as a proxy for the president as he announced a controversial policy decision that Sessions has sought for years -- and on which Trump was reportedly wavering.

It was not clear whether Sessions and Trump had reached a truce. It was not even clear if they agreed about the end of the amnesty program for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children. Sessions was unequivocal in his statement that the DACA program is being "rescinded." Trump tweeted hours later that he would ultimately leave it to Congress to "legalize DACA."

But at least Trump had stopped publicly mulling Sessions' replacement and tweeting insults. His new chief of staff John F. Kelly had assured Sessions that his job was safe.

Sessions, meanwhile, had seemingly ingratiated himself with a rapid-fire series of announcements that did more to advance Trump's policy agenda than the actions of any other Cabinet member. (Before DACA, there was the decision to allow police departments to receive surplus military equipment, the redirection of the Justice Department's civil rights resources to take on universities that engage in "intentional race-based discrimination," and the new policy to track down and prosecute alleged "leakers.")

So does that mean Trump and Sessions are going to be friends again? Not likely, according to experts on the attorney general's office who spoke to Roll Call.

With several investigations of the Trump campaign looming, and the president convinced that Sessions is responsible -- at least in part -- their relationship will undoubtedly remain tricky and could boil over again at any time.

While there is no precedent to Trump's public attacks on Sessions, the strain in their relationship is not unusual, experts on the office of attorney general say.

Instead, Sessions and Trump are demonstrating a pattern that has emerged time and again in presidential administrations since Watergate: It is very hard for the president and the attorney general to be friends -- in fact, conflict between the two might be a sign the system is working.

"By definition, the attorney general and the president of the United States are going to have conflict," said David A. Yalof, a political science professor at the University of Connecticut who wrote a book about DOJ investigations of the executive branch, "Prosecution Among Friends."

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