WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions hit back at his boss’ latest criticism of his tenure at the head of the Justice Department after President Trump lamented to Fox News that his appointee “never took control of the Justice Department.”
Sessions recused himself from the Russia campaign influence investigation on March 2, 2017, because of interactions he’d had with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during campaign season. Three weeks after his appointment, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein launched the special counsel investigation with former FBI Director Robert Mueller at the helm.
Trump has previously lashed out at Sessions for the sequence of events, and took fresh shots at the cabinet member in the Fox interview aired today.
“I wanted to stay uninvolved. But when everybody sees what’s going on in the Justice Department — I always put ‘Justice’ now with quotes — it’s a very, very sad day,” Trump said. “Jeff Sessions recused himself, which he shouldn’t have done or he should have told me. Even my enemies say that, ‘Jeff Sessions should have told you that we was going to recuse himself and then you wouldn’t have put him in.’ He took the job and then he said, ‘I’m going to recuse myself.’ I said, ‘What kind of a man is this?'”
“And by the way, he was on the campaign. You know, the only reason I gave him the job is because I felt loyalty. He was an original supporter. He was on the campaign. He knows there was no collusion,” he added.
The president asserted that “the Dems are very strong in the Justice Department — I put in an attorney general that never took control of the Justice Department, Jeff Sessions. Never took control of the Justice Department. And it’s a — sort of an incredible thing.”
Sessions released a statement today declaring that he “took control of the Department of Justice the day I was sworn in, which is why we have had unprecedented success at effectuating the president’s agenda — one that protects the safety and security and rights of the American people, reduces violent crime, enforces our immigration laws, promotes economic growth, and advances religious liberty.”
“While I am attorney general, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations,” Sessions added. “I demand the highest standards, and where they are not met, I take action.”
“However, no nation has a more talented, more dedicated group of law enforcement investigators and prosecutors than the United States.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters that Trump is “entitled to an attorney general he has faith in, somebody that’s qualified for the job, and I think there will come a time, sooner rather than later, where it will be time to have a new face and a fresh voice at the Department of Justice,” and noted that the best time to fire Sessions would be after midterm elections.
A year ago, Graham said “there will be holy hell to pay” if Trump fired Sessions.
The GOP caucus is divided, though, and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) noted that she doesn’t see Trump being able to get a Sessions replacement confirmed.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) read a statement into the congressional record on the floor today stressing that “the attorney general should not be fired for acting honorably and for being faithful to the rule of law.”
“Bizarrely, there are people in this body now talking like the attorney general will be fired, should be fired, I’m not sure how to interpret the comments of the last couple of hours,” Sasse said. “I would just like to say, as a member of the Judiciary Committee, and as a member of this body, I find it really difficult to envision any circumstance where I would vote to confirm a successor to Jeff Sessions if he is fired because he is executing his job rather than choosing to act as a partisan hack.”