Jeff Sessions is a good man. He’s a capable lawyer, and his pedigree goes far deeper in respected conservative legal circles than most realize. None but the most partisan would argue otherwise. It’s not a stretch to opine that Sessions is currently holding his dream job as Attorney General; a cosmic and drastic career turn for a partisan US Senator a few decades removed from being refused a federal judgeship in an ugly confirmation battle. His political gamble to back Trump early in 2016 paid off with the ultimate prize, but the strings attached formed a web of tangled loyalties and chaos. Things Jeff Sessions never saw coming…
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call Sessions the most misunderstood man in Washington. He’s reviled by the left for his hardline views on drug enforcement, civil rights positions, and immigration reform. As a result of his controversial and consequential recusal from all things Russia and Clinton related, he’s found himself in the uncharted waters of being maligned by Trump supporters who view his decision as a betrayal. You might say he’s found himself in a “crossfire hurricane,” and not necessarily of his own making. There are so many moving parts to how we got here, perhaps they can only be understood by reviewing where it started.
To find an elementary footing on the subject, let’s play a word association game. You say Attorney General Sessions, I say Chuck Cooper. Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein? Chuck Cooper. Former Assistant AG Rachel Brand? Chuck Cooper. Acting Assistant AG Jesse Panuccio? Chuck Cooper. Solicitor General Noel Francisco? Chuck Cooper. Presidential Candidate Ted Cruz? Chuck Cooper. I think you get the point. There’s no separating the native Alabaman and longtime DC super lawyer from our current situation. If you need further validation of Cooper’s influence, know that he seamlessly transformed from ardent Ted Cruz supporter and advisor, to the chief architect of Trump’s Justice Department. If that makes you a little squeamish, you’re not alone. The more one peels back the layers of this particular onion, the more one sees a complex and hardly subtle establishment matrix built to box in President Trump.
Sessions’ tenure as Attorney General was largely doomed at the start. There is little doubt that the Obama administration took a keen interest in setting up strategic roadblocks before the confirmation hearings even began. One of those now infamous meetings with Russian ambassador Kysliak that Sessions failed to recall, was actually set up by the Obama State Department; it had nothing to do with Trump or any part of the transition. It was a set up, and the now disgraced Al Franken sprung the trap during the hearings. Sessions also endured unprecedented opposition from his democratic colleagues. Senator Corey Booker, a known provocateur, took the pains to testify as a witness against Sessions. The re-litigation of the old charges of racism were lobbed back into the court of public opinion. Sessions needed help to make it through. He needed his old friend from Alabama, Charles J. Cooper. Chuck, as it turns out, was more than happy to help.
Cooper is an omnipresent figure in DC. He graduated from the same Alabama School of Law as Sessions, but the two only became friends during work together in Reagan’s Justice Department in the 80s. Cooper flew at a different altitude than Sessions. He graduated first in his class and quickly found work as a clerk to the late, great William Rehnquist. This was a transformative time for Cooper, who would go on to become Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel; a launching pad position previously held by his old boss Rehnquist during the Nixon administration. At age 34, he was already a widely respected conservative voice in a Justice Department that was embroiled in a touchy Iran-Contra investigation. Cooper was one of only a handful of people who were tasked with hunting down political liabilities to Reagan. In his zeal to protect the Justice Department, and theoretically Reagan himself, Cooper came down on Lt Colonel Oliver North like a hammer. Many at the time felt that his mission was to find a fall guy and throw him under the bus. Cooper went to the extraordinary lengths to testify before Congress prior to North and claim he believed that North would not be truthful. Without delving deeper into the matter, suffices to say Cooper possessed a readily apparent sense of moral superiority that unsettled some of his Justice colleagues. A relevant character trait in these turbulent days.
Now having one of the most successful boutique law firms in the country, Cooper put aside his open disdain for Donald Trump to help his old friend prep for the confirmation process. Something few were more qualified to do than Chuck Cooper. And wouldn’t you know it, he was also magnanimous enough to offer to oversee the hiring of all the top positions at Justice Main. With an “aw shucks” grin, and a legendary status in the Federalist Society, Cooper set about putting all the functional pieces around Sessions to ensure loyalty to the Attorney General, not the president. About the only person who was not connected to Cooper’s law firm was Rod Rosenstein; who, of course, never has worked for a non-government entity in his career. But fear not, Cooper personally interviewed Rosenstein along with Sessions, and gave him a thumbs up and the unparalleled Cooper seal of approval. Then, as Caesar said, the die was cast.
Cooper smoothed over every rough edge in the process for Sessions. He maneuvered White House Chief Counsel Don McGahn every which but loose. Every time someone asks me why Trump didn’t step in and get assurances from Sessions prior to swearing him in, I tell them to ask McGahn and Cooper. They just ensured that the top floors of Justice were all Cooper & Kirk alums, and all other counsel positions in the administration were pipelined in from McGahn’s prior firm, Jones Day. Protecting the interests of President Trump was evidently not on the priority list. Once Chris Christie was summarily dismissed from his role as Trump’s transition boss, Cooper filled the void at Justice with nothing short of brilliance. How does Ted Cruz’s mentor and advisor end up filling every key position in a Trump Justice Department? If the results were not so disastrous, I would commend his political swashbuckling.
Now Cooper has come full circle, serving as Sessions’ personal attorney during the Mueller investigation. Doing what he has been since the nomination of Jeff Sessions: protecting his old friends and employees from President Trump’s ire. Cooper even had himself in the running for Solicitor General before some in the White House pushed back, presumably Kellyanne Conway making waves for her husband to get the gig. Sure enough, it emerged through tweets that Mr Conway was no fan of the president, either. No worries though, Cooper ushered Noel Francisco into the position. Someone who happened to be the second person he ever hired at Cooper & Kirk.
Charles J. Cooper doesn’t miss a trick. Know why? Because he invented most of them. Even with all the success in protecting Sessions up until now, I think even Cooper knows that at the conclusion of the Mueller debacle, his old trusted pal from Alabama might need one of those cozy corner offices at Cooper & Kirk.