Trump Confidante: Sessions in the Mix for Homeland Security
Informal adviser says president having 'spirited discussion' about a controversial move for the attorney general
President Donald Trump is seriously considering replacing John Kelly at the Department of Homeland Security with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, according to a longtime confidante of the president who is outside the White House.
The appointment, though it would be immensely controversial, is viewed as potentially serving two purposes: Getting Sessions out of the Justice Department and putting an immigration hawk into the Homeland Security slot.
That Trump would still be considering asking Sessions to make the move is a sign of the degree to which the president remains bothered by the Justice Department’s investigation into Russian hacking of Democratic computers in 2016 and Sessions’ recusal on the matter.
The president is having a "spirited discussion" about moving Sessions into Homeland Security, a top adviser to Trump told LifeZette on Monday.
The White House press office did not return messages left by LifeZette about Sessions and the search for a new Homeland Security director. The position became open when John Kelly accepted a new role as White House chief of staff in late July.
The Justice Department pushed back on the notion.
Sarah Isgur Flores, spokeswoman at the Justice Department, said the idea of Sessions being removed from the Justice Department has already been debunked. She cited an Associated Press report from Wednesday claiming Kelly called Sessions to assure him his job was secure.
The appointment of Sessions to Homeland Security would likely satisfy immigration hardliners. But it would set off a furor in Congress and the press. Lawmakers, particularly several GOP senators, have made it clear they want Sessions to stay at the Justice Department.
Trump complained to The New York Times in mid-July that Sessions should have told him about his intention to recuse himself from the Russia investigation if he became attorney general. Trump and many of his advisers believe Sessions' recusal led to the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel in charge of the Russia investigation. Mueller has recently expanded that investigation to the finances of Trump and his associates.
Sessions cannot fire Mueller, but if the president wanted to begin the process, it is likely Trump would have to remove Sessions first.
But the confidante who spoke to LifeZette believes keeping Sessions in the administration would dampen the outrage that the decision was made to ultimately undermine the Russia investigation.
"You're not firing him," the informal adviser told LifeZette. "You're moving him."
Asking Sessions to make the move remains a long shot, and the attorney general could certainly refuse if asked. But regardless of who is tapped to replace Kelly at DHS, he must be an immigration hawk committed to cracking down on illegal immigration and building the wall, or Trump will face serious backlash, the confidante said.
"If he doesn't build the wall, he doesn't get re-elected," the source said.
One name that has been floated by pundits as a possible replacement is another current member of the president's cabinet: Secretary of Energy Rick Perry.
That speculation is all talk and is not part of the president's current thinking, according to the confidante.
The informal adviser said Perry is too "well-suited" for Energy and that the former Texas governor has taken to the Energy Department as a fish to water, the adviser said.
Perry is also somewhat distrusted by immigration hawks. Perry, a conservative Republican, tried to toe a moderate line on immigration during the 2012 presidential campaign.
But Perry badly fumbled the ball after attacks from Republican Mitt Romney, who ran to the right of most candidates in the 2012 GOP primaries. Romney pressed Perry on the issue of in-state tuition for illegal immigrants at Texas public colleges.
At a Republican debate on Sept. 22, 2011, Perry insisted he supported the Texas policy. He then made the mistake of attacking immigration hardliners.
"If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they've been brought there by no fault of their own, I don't think you have a heart," said Perry.
A candidate for DHS under more serious consideration, the source said, is Ray Kelly, the former commissioner of the New York Police Department.
Ray Kelly, no relation to John Kelly, served as New York City police commissioner in the 1990s, then again for 12 years under former Mayor Mike Bloomberg.