News & Politics

Trump Is 'Damn Fortunate' Sessions Recused Himself on Russia, Former AG Insists

FILE - In this Dec. 15, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump, left, appears with Attorney General Jeff Sessions during the FBI National Academy graduation ceremony in Quantico, Va. Trump, an ardent supporter of capital punishment, recently called for the death penalty for the man accused of killing 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue and Sessions has so far approved at least a dozen death penalty prosecutions over the past two years, according to court filings tracked by the Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel, with cases ranging from the high profile to the relatively obscure. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

On Friday, President Donald Trump again attacked his former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, claiming Sessions betrayed him when the AG recused himself from the Trump-Russia investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Trump has endorsed Tommy Tuberville, Sessions’ challenger in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate seat which Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) won in a special election after Sessions stepped down to become AG. Sessions, a firm Trump supporter who has held his tongue when the president attacked him, finally responded late Friday night.

The former AG, an unrequited supporter of the president, insisted that his recusal was the right decision — not just legally, but politically.

Trump had retweeted a Tuberville attacking Sessions for his recusal. Tuberville accused the former AG of having thrown Trump “to the wolves with the Mueller appointment. When faced with supporting POTUS or running scared, Jeff Sessions chose the easy way out and recused himself. I won’t ever run from a fight in the U.S. Senate.”

The president began his message the same way: “3 years ago, after Jeff Sessions recused himself, the Fraudulent Mueller Scam began. Alabama, do not trust Jeff Sessions. He let our Country down. That’s why I endorsed Coach Tommy Tuberville, the true supporter of our #MAGA agenda!”

The former AG responded diplomatically, but he could not let the president’s tweet stand.

Let the Run-Offs Begin: Jeff Sessions, Tommy Tuberville Tied in Ala. Senate Race

“Look, I know your anger, but recusal was required by law. I did my duty & you’re damn fortunate I did. It protected the rule of law & resulted in your exoneration,” the former AG tweeted. “Your personal feelings don’t dictate who Alabama picks as their senator, the people of Alabama do.”

Sessions attacked Tuberville as a “coward who is rightly too afraid to debate me.” The former AG also claimed that Trump’s chosen candidate has rejected key facets of the president’s agenda. “He says you’re wrong on China & trade. He wants to bring in even more foreign workers to take American jobs. That’s not your agenda and it’s not mine or Alabama’s. I know Alabama. Tuberville doesn’t.”

Sessions clearly feels betrayed, and he has good reason to think the president has unjustly held a grudge against him. The former AG has always been a firm supporter of Trump — he was the first senator to endorse Trump in the Republican primary in 2016. He appeared at many rallies during the campaign and had a large role in the transition. As a result of his involvement in the campaign, Sessions argued it was his duty to recuse himself from the Trump-Russia investigation.

The AG also unjustly came under fire in March 2017 for meeting with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in 2016. During his confirmation hearings, he had testified that he “did not have communications with the Russians.” He later clarified, however, that he did “not recall any discussions with the Russian Ambassador, or any other representatives of the Russian government, regarding the political campaign on these occasions or any other occasion.”

The Mueller team considered charging Sessions with perjury for “knowingly giving false answers to Russia-related questions” but concluded that “the evidence is not sufficient” to prove he did so. Indeed, while the then-senator met with Kislyak during the same week as the Republican National Convention, that meeting also involved other ambassadors, and Sessions routinely met with ambassadors in his role on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

By the time Sessions recused himself in March, he had already come under scrutiny regarding Russia, and the Trump-Russia collusion narrative was in full-swing. The AG did not recuse himself in order to “throw Trump to the wolves.” He did so because he had been involved in the campaign and the transition team. Had Sessions opposed Mueller’s probe in the way Trump suggested he should, Mueller may have decided to pursue a full obstruction of justice charge against the president.

It is impossible to prove whether or not the recusal led to the president’s exoneration from Russia collusion charges. It seems likely, however, that this recusal did help Trump avoid a full-scale obstruction of justice attack. Had Mueller’s report recommended an obstruction case, Democrats may have impeached Trump months earlier.

I firmly support President Trump’s re-election because he has been a champion of many important conservative causes, but I believe his grudge against Sessions is a serious mistake. While Attorney General William Barr has more than proven himself up to the momentous task of running the Department of Justice, his predecessor was no slouch, either.

It appears Trump has not only wronged his former AG but has also chosen to endorse a candidate who supports less of the president’s agenda than Jeff Sessions does. While the new revelations have confirmed the baselessness of the Trump-Russia investigation which the president now terms “Obamagate,” these revelations do not mean Sessons was wrong to recuse himself. Trump should direct his outrage at those truly responsible, and stop his campaign against his former AG.

Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.