Trump berated Sessions after Mueller picked
AG was called an ‘idiot,’ offered to resign his post
WASHINGTON — Shortly after learning in May that a special counsel had been appointed to investigate links between his campaign associates and Russia, President Donald Trump berated Attorney General Jeff Sessions in an Oval Office meeting and said the attorney general should resign, according to current and former administration officials and others briefed on the matter.
The president blamed the appointment of the special counsel, Robert Mueller, on Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the Justice Department’s Russia investigation — a move Trump believes was the moment his administration lost control over the inquiry. Accusing Sessions of “disloyalty,” Trump unleashed a string of insults on his attorney general.
Ashen and emotional, Sessions told the president he would quit and sent a resignation letter to the White House, according to four people who were told details of the meeting. Sessions later told associates the demeaning way the president addressed him was the most humiliating experience in decades of public life.
The Oval Office meeting shows the intensity of Trump’s emotions as the Russia investigation gained steam and how he appeared to immediately see Mueller’s appointment as a looming problem for his administration. It also illustrates the depth of antipathy Trump has had for Sessions — one of his earliest supporters — and how the president interprets “disloyalty” within his circle of advisers.
Trump ended up rejecting Sessions’ May resignation letter after senior members of his administration argued that dismissing the attorney general would create more problems for a president who already had fired an FBI director and a national security adviser.
In July, Trump again told aides he wanted to remove Sessions, but for a second time didn’t take action.
The relationship between the two men has improved marginally since midsummer, as Sessions has made a public display of hunting for the leakers among the administration’s national security officials.
This account is based on interviews with seven administration officials and others familiar with the interactions between Trump and Sessions in recent months who requested anonymity because they are not permitted to speak publicly about confidential conversations between the president and his aides. Politico first reported in July that Sessions had offered his resignation letter, but the circumstances that prompted the letter — and Trump’s dressing down of the attorney general — have not previously been reported.
Spokespeople for the White House and Justice Department declined to comment.
The president’s outburst came in the middle of an Oval Office meeting Trump had with top advisers May 17 to discuss candidates to take over the FBI after the president fired its director, James Comey, earlier that month.
In addition to Sessions, Vice President Mike Pence, Donald McGahn, the White House counsel, and several other aides attended the meeting.
Rosenstein’s phone call
In the middle of the meeting, McGahn received a phone call from Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who had been overseeing the Russia investigation since Sessions recused himself from the inquiry months earlier.
In the call to McGahn, Rosenstein said he had decided to appoint Mueller to be a special counsel for the investigation.
When the call ended, McGahn relayed the news to the president and his aides. Almost immediately, Trump lobbed a volley of insults at Sessions, telling the attorney general it was his fault they were in the current situation. Trump told Sessions that choosing him to be attorney general was one of the worst decisions he had made, called him an “idiot,” and said he should resign.
An emotional Sessions told the president he would resign and left the Oval Office. That evening, as the Justice Department publicly announced the appointment of Mueller, the attorney general wrote a brief resignation letter to the president that was later sent to the White House. A person familiar with the events raised the possibility Sessions had become emotional because the impact of his recusal was becoming clear.
But in the hours after the Oval Office meeting, Trump’s top advisers intervened to save Sessions’ job. Pence, Stephen Bannon, the president’s chief strategist at the time, and Reince Priebus, his chief of staff at the time, advised that accepting Sessions’ resignation would only sow more chaos.
The president relented and eventually returned the resignation letter to Sessions — with a handwritten response on it.
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