WASHINGTON – On a day when the talk of the town in Washington was whether Attorney General Jeff Sessions can hold onto his job, President Trump gave what may have been his biggest hint yet that he was not ready to say, “You’re fired.”
Fielding questions at a Rose Garden joint press conference with the prime minister of Lebanon, reporters launched a volley of questions about Sessions, including:
- Do you feel that the attorney general should indeed stay?
- Have you lost confidence in Sessions?
- Do you intend on firing him?
- Do you want him to resign?
- Are you’re prepared to fire him if he doesn’t?
- Why should he remain as the attorney general?
- And, why are you sort of letting him twist in the wind rather than just making the call for him?
Trump’s replies indicated he may be willing to give Sessions another chance, despite widespread speculation in Washington and in the press that he is on the verge of firing the attorney general.
After remarking, “I don’t think I am” letting Sessions twist in the wind, the president added, “but I am disappointed in the attorney general for recusing himself in the Russia investigation.”
Trump then indicated he hadn’t made up his mind on firing Sessions, saying: “I’m very disappointed with the attorney general, but we will see what happens. Time will tell. Time will tell.”
And Trump indicated there may be a way for Sessions to redeem himself in the president’s eyes, noting, “I want the attorney general to be much tougher on the leaks from intelligence agencies, which are leaking like rarely have they ever leaked before, at a very important level.”
The president’s remarks came after a number of senators came to Sessions’ defense, publicly supporting the embattled attorney general whom Trump has criticized repeatedly.
And it came on a day when it was made apparent the president needs the senators’ goodwill more than ever, as it took a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence to finally advance a plan that could result in the repeal of Obamacare, after two GOP senators defected.
The following GOP senators issued statements of support for Sessions:
- Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio: “Jeff Sessions is a friend, former colleague, and an honorable person. He is a man of deep conviction and principle who believes in the rule of law. We may not agree on every policy issue, but I believe he always has the best interests of our country at heart.”
- Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas: “I know Jeff Sessions well, and he’s a good and honorable man and I think he’s doing what he believes he’s obligated to do under the rules that govern attorneys general and in order to restore the credibility of the Department of Justice and the FBI, something we sorely need after the last administration. That he made the right decision to recuse himself I happen to agree with him that he did. Having participated in the campaign like he did, I think in order to maintain the impression of impartiality, which is so important to building public confidence, that I think Jeff Sessions did the right thing.”
- Sen. Thom Tillis: “While some may argue that he should not have recused himself from the Russia investigation, Attorney General Sessions demonstrated good judgment by doing so and removed all appearances of a potential conflict. The attorney general’s recusal was ultimately made in the best interests of the Department of Justice and the country.”
- Sen Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.: “Jeff Sessions is one of the most decent people I’ve ever met in my political life. He’s a rock-solid conservative, but above else he believes in the rule of law. Jeff understands that we are a nation of laws, not men. On occasion, I’ve vigorously disagreed with Jeff but I’ve never once doubted his integrity or sense of fair play.”
- Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala.: “During the past 20 years that I have served with Jeff Sessions in the Senate, I have had the opportunity to know him well. Jeff Sessions is a man of integrity, loyalty, and extraordinary character. I join the people of Alabama in giving Jeff Sessions my deep respect and unwavering support.”
- Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah: Sessions is “someone I admire greatly” and “a man of integrity,” Lee said during a Senate judiciary committee nominations hearing. He added: “I look forward to continuing to work with him.”
- Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.: “Sessions is a credit to the Department of Justice. He has worked tirelessly to protect our neighborhoods from violent crime, end dangerous sanctuary cities, defend the rule of law, provide for victims of crime, and ensure every American is treated fairly. I continue to support him as Attorney General of the United States.”
In tweets made early Tuesday, President Trump railed against Sessions for recusing himself from an FBI inquiry into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election. A day after characterizing Sessions as “beleaguered,” Trump publicly blasted Sessions for his “very weak position” on prosecuting Hillary Clinton’s “crimes.”
“Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes (where are E-mails & DNC server) & Intel leakers!” the president wrote on Twitter Tuesday.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes (where are E-mails & DNC server) & Intel leakers!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 25, 2017
The president questioned why Sessions was not investigating a report that claims officials in Ukraine sought to influence last year’s U.S. presidential election in favor of Clinton.
“Ukrainian efforts to sabotage Trump campaign – ‘quietly working to boost Clinton.’ So where is the investigation A.G. @seanhannity,” the president tweeted just after 6 a.m. Eastern.
Trump also accused the acting head of FBI director, Andrew McCabe of being politically biased against him and in cahoots with the Hillary Clinton.
“Problem is that the acting head of the FBI & the person in charge of the Hillary investigation, Andrew McCabe, got $700,000 from H for wife!” Trump tweeted.
Problem is that the acting head of the FBI & the person in charge of the Hillary investigation, Andrew McCabe, got $700,000 from H for wife!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 25, 2017
McCabe’s wife, R. Jill McCabe, received $467,500 in 2015 during a failed Democratic run for the Virginia Senate from a political action committee affiliated with Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who is a close friend of the Clintons. The Clintons helped fund-raise for McCabe’s campaign.
Sessions pledged in January during his confirmation hearing that would recuse himself from any possible investigations related to Clinton, claiming the politically charged comments he made about the former secretary of state would give the appearance he is not impartial in the potential probes of her email server.
Last Wednesday, President Trump expressed regret about tapping Sessions to lead the Justice Department.
He claimed Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation was “very unfair” and that he would have never appointed the former Alabama senator had he known he would recuse himself from the probe that has obstructed his presidency.
“Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else,” Mr. Trump told the New York Times.
“Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself, which frankly I think is very unfair to the president,” he added. “How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.’ It’s extremely unfair — and that’s a mild word — to the president.”
The Washington Post reported Friday that intercepted U.S. intelligence shows Sessions met with former Russian Ambassador Sergey I. Kislyak twice and discussed Trump campaign matters, despite testifying during his confirmation hearing that he never had met with Russian officials.
As a result, Senate Judiciary Committee’s Chairman Chuck Grassley is calling for Sessions to testify publicly before the panel.
In the interview with Times, Trump excoriated Sessions for claiming he never communicated with Russians during the presidential race.
“Jeff Sessions gave some bad answers,” the president said. “He gave some answers that were simple questions and should have been simple answers, but they weren’t.”
One day after President Trump expressed frustration with Sessions in the Times’ interview, the top Justice Department official held a press conference stating he would continue to serve in his post as attorney general “as long as is appropriate.”
Following Trump’s Twitter posts criticizing Sessions Tuesday, newly minted White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci reinforced speculation that the president “probably” wants Sessions gone.
“It’s clear the president wants him gone, right, Anthony?” talk-show host Hugh Hewitt asked Scaramucci.
“I have an enormous amount of respect for the attorney general, but I do know the president pretty well and, if there’s this level of tension in the relationship, that that’s public, you’re probably right,” Scaramucci said.
“I don’t want to speak for the president on that because he’s a Cabinet official, and I sort of think that has to be between the president of the United States and the Cabinet official,” he continued. “I think the president has a certain style, a certain skill set. He’s obviously frustrated.”
In a White House press briefing, recently promoted White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders warned Tuesday that the president will not hesitate to fire Sessions.
“I know that he is certainly frustrated and disappointed in the attorney general for recusing himself. But as we’ve said, I think that’s a decision that if the president wants to make, he certainly will,” Sanders said on Fox News. “[Mr. Trump is] continuing to move forward and focus on other things, but that frustration certainly hasn’t gone away.”
While Sessions has made it clear he does not intend to leave his post, rumors ran wild that Trump is vetting former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani to replace him.
Giuliani refused to entertain speculation surrounding whether he would replace the sitting attorney general when pressed by TMZ, calling Sessions “a good friend.”
“There is an attorney general,” Giuliani said when asked if he would be open to accepting the position. “I have already said that I am very happy where I am. Right now, there is an attorney general, so that is a hypothetical question.”
Talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh, who has repeatedly criticized Sessions for recusing himself, said he understands the president’s frustration with the attorney general, but he argued that Trump’s criticism of Sessions for not going after Clinton is unreasonable.
“You have to go back to Trump himself, who said during the transition that he would not pursue the Clintons, that he was not interested,” Limbaugh recalled. “He was being magnanimous in victory. So unless he’s issued an order to Sessions to do it and Sessions is defying it, the guidance that’s out there has been provided by Trump, and that was no investigation of the Clintons.”
The public rebuke of his Cabinet member, Limbaugh argued, is “discomforting.”
“Sessions is a by-the-book attorney general, a by-the-book legal mind,” Limbaugh said. “That’s, I think, one of the bones of contention here because it’s arguable that he didn’t need to recuse himself.”
Nonetheless, he continued, it’s “a little bit discomforting, unseemly for Trump to go after such a loyal supporter this way, especially when Sessions made it obvious he’s not gonna resign.”
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich warned Monday that if Trump fires Sessions, the move will upset conservatives around the country.
“His base thinks that on things like [violent street gangs] and sanctuary cities that Sessions is doing a fine job, and I think his base would be confused,” Gingrich said.
Gingrich cautioned that Trump’s public repudiation of Sessions could intimidate his entire White House staff.
“Anybody who is good at team building would suggest to the president that attacking members of your team rattles the whole team,” he said.
Some conservative media figures support the president in his fight with Sessions. Hannity criticized Sessions on his radio show Wednesday for refusing to reopen the investigation into Clinton’s email server.
“I don’t know where Jeff Sessions is, maybe something’s happening that we don’t know about,” Hannity said. “I’m like, OK, we have a new attorney general, statute of limitations have not gone anywhere, why isn’t this woman being investigated?”