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Corker on Trump’s Criticism of Sessions: ‘I Wish It Would Stop’

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is surrounded by reporters on Capitol Hill on July 27, 2017. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON – Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he does not “get any sense” that President Trump would “take steps” to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions, adding that President Trump and his administration understand that firing would be “highly problematic.”

Corker also said he wishes Trump’s public criticism of Sessions, including through tweets and in an interview with the New York Times, would stop. “I’m very disappointed with the attorney general, but we will see what happens,” Trump said at a press conference with Lebanese prime minister last week. “Time will tell. Time will tell.”

Washington Post columnist David Ignatius asked Corker if he thinks Sessions should stay on the job.

“Look, I get some grief in the hallways. These are, sort of, political issues, if you will, and they come up three or four times a day, and if you responded to them that’s all you’d be responding to, and I try to stay more on the policy side of things. But, look, I don’t get any sense that the president is going to take steps to actually fire Sessions. I think they understand that’s problematic, highly problematic – but I do think it’s evident that the president is making it difficult for Attorney General Sessions,” Corker said during a Washington Post Live discussion on Wednesday.

“So, look, I think that’s something Jeff has got to decide. I know of no professional reason for Jeff to step down. I have heard no one complain of how he’s conducting himself in the office. I’ll let Jeff himself speak to these issues. They obviously have a very, very, very close relationship, OK? Jeff went down and spent two or three days at Mar-a-Lago on the front end of the campaign and got to know the president, was his first backer. Obviously, the president hasn’t liked the way he’s dealt with the Russia issues. But this is something that Attorney General Sessions can speak to himself – but I wish it would stop,” he added.

Corker was also asked if it would be “appropriate” for Trump to “seek to fire” special counsel Robert Mueller.

“I cannot imagine a serious conversation taking place in the White House about firing Mueller – that would be a major mistake, a major miscalculation. For that reason, I cannot believe there’s a serious discussion taking place and discussing it publicly is, I hope and believe, an unnecessary waste of time,” he said.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly referred to the Iran deal as the “worst deal ever.” Corker, who had opposed the Iran nuclear deal, said the agreement is easier to get out of than the Paris climate accord.

“It’s just like the Paris accord, isn’t it? The president can actually cause the Iran agreement to go away. He doesn’t even have to certify that there is non-compliance.  Every 120 days, every six months, and every year, there are sanctions that are in place right now. All he has to do is not waive those sanctions and this entire agreement goes away. I don’t think the American people understand that. I’m not sure the president understands that yet, OK? But he can cause this agreement to fall apart. He doesn’t even have to certify that there is non-compliance,” Corker said.

“All he has to do is when one of those waiver periods come up, not waive. Now, it seems to me if he’s going to do that, he wants to do that at a time that he has a policy objective. In other words, what’s your next step? Once you do that, you’re self-creating a crisis, right? And unless you’ve aligned your European allies and others toward an end, but because the president – executive fiat – this agreement is easier to get out of than the Paris accord,” he added.

Corker advised Trump to “radically enforce” the deal instead of getting rid of it altogether.

“What I say to the president, and this is what Tillerson, Mattis, and McMaster say to the president is – well, these are my words, not theirs – you can only tear the agreement up one time. So when you’re going to tear it up since nothing bad is happening today – when I say ‘bad,’ it’s not like a nuclear weapon is getting ready to be developed. We gave up all of our leverage already. So wait until you have your allies aligned with you. Radically enforce it,” he said.

“If you radically enforce it, they’re liable and, right now, I know that we’re asking… to get into various facilities in Iran. If they don’t let us in, boom,” the chairman added. “But what you want is you want the breakup of this deal to be about Iran. You don’t want it to be about the United States because we want our allies with us. We want our allies with us and, at the end of the day, I know [Secretary of State Rex] Tillerson’s goal is to negotiate a follow-on that ensures that they never enrich uranium. That’s the problem here.”