Trump be­rated Ses­sions af­ter Mueller picked

AG was called an ‘idiot,’ of­fered to re­sign his post

Houston Chronicle - - NATION - By Michael S. Sch­midt and Mag­gie Haber­man NEW YORK TIMES

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.

Res­ig­na­tion re­jected

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.

Carline Jean / South Florida Sun-Sen­tinel via As­so­ci­ated Press

Jan­ice Con­nelly of Hol­ly­wood, Fla., sets up a makeshift memo­rial for the se­nior cit­i­zens who died in the heat at The Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Cen­ter at Hol­ly­wood Hills.

Ses­sions

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