WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions told reporters this morning he’s “totally confident that we can continue to run this office in an effective way” after President Trump told the New York Times that he wouldn’t have hired the former Alabama senator if he had known Sessions would recuse himself from the Russia investigation.
Sessions, the first Senate supporter of candidate Trump, was confirmed in February and recused himself from the Justice Department probe of Russia’s election influence operation and any potential ties to the Trump campaign in March, after it was disclosed that he met twice with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during election season. In May, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, nominated by Trump in January and confirmed in April, appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel leading the Russia investigation.
Mueller has amassed a team of investigators that former special counsel Kenneth Starr, whose investigation of President Clinton led to his impeachment by the House, called “a great, great team of complete professionals.” The known lawyers on the team, with decades of FBI and DOJ experience, include experts in fraud cases, money laundering, organized crime, and cybersecurity, and their backgrounds include Watergate and the Enron trial. The special counsel’s wide berth was underscored in the Clinton investigation, when the president’s affair with intern Monica Lewinsky was discovered.
In a Wednesday sit-down interview with a trio of NYT reporters at the White House, Trump was asked if Mueller looking at his family finances would cross a “red line” of some sort: “I would say yes,” the president replied, calling it “a violation” as the probe is about Russia. The Guardian reported that Mueller’s team and Trump’s bank, Deutsche Bank, had already been in contact and the bank expects subpoenas or other information requests.
On the subject of his attorney general, Trump told the NYT: “Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself, which frankly I think is very unfair to the president. 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.”
Sessions and Rosenstein had a previously scheduled news conference this morning to announce the takedown of AlphaBay, a dark net marketplace that listed more than a quarter-million offers for illegal drugs and manufacturing components.
“We in this Department of Justice will continue every single day to work hard to serve the national interest, and we wholeheartedly join the priorities of President Trump,” Sessions replied when asked for his reaction to Trump’s remarks. “He gave us several directives. One is to dismantle internet transnational criminal organizations. That’s what we’re announcing today, the dismantling of the largest dark website in the world by far. And I congratulate our people for that.”
“I have the honor of serving as attorney general. It’s something that goes beyond any thought I would have ever had for myself. We love this job. We love this department. And I plan to continue to do so as long as that is appropriate.”
Asked how he can serve effectively without the confidence of the president, Sessions said, “We’re serving right now. The work we’re doing today is the kind of work that we intend to continue. Just last week, we announced the largest health care takedown ever in the United States. We had all the major law enforcement leaders in my office yesterday to talk about unified efforts to improve our crime-fighting with state and local officials.”
“So I am totally confident that we can continue to run this office in an effective way,” he added. “But I really would like for you to focus now on the work of the individuals behind me that have helped put this case together so that we can celebrate and affirm the work that they have done, so that we can learn from it and get even better in the future.”
Trump told the paper he was “irritated” to learn the man he nominated for deputy attorney general was from Baltimore because “there are very few Republicans in Baltimore, if any.” Alongside Sessions, Rosenstein told reporters this morning that he’s “working here every day to advance the priorities of the Department of Justice and the administration.”
“I was proud to be here yesterday. I’m proud to be here today. I will be proud to work here tomorrow,” Rosenstein said. “And we are spending every minute working to advance the interests of the department.”