Trump ex­presses re­gret on AG pick

He rips Ses­sions, probe ‘con­flicts’

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE -

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump said Wednes­day that he never would have ap­pointed At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions had he known Ses­sions would re­cuse him­self from over­see­ing the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion that has dogged his pres­i­dency, call­ing the de­ci­sion “very un­fair to the pres­i­dent.”

In a pub­lic break with one of his ear­li­est po­lit­i­cal sup­port­ers, Trump com­plained that Ses­sions’ de­ci­sion ul­ti­mately led to the ap­point­ment of a spe­cial coun­sel that should not have hap­pened.

“Ses­sions should have never re­cused him­self, and if he was go­ing to re­cuse him­self, he should have told me be­fore he took the job and I would have picked some­body else,” Trump said.

In a wide-rang­ing in­ter­view with The New York Times, the pres­i­dent also ac­cused James Comey, the FBI di­rec­tor he fired in May, of try­ing to lever­age a dossier con­tain­ing un­sub­stan­ti­ated al­le­ga­tions to keep his job. Trump crit­i­cized both the act­ing FBI di­rec­tor who has been fill­ing in since Comey’s dis­missal, An­drew McCabe, and the deputy at­tor­ney gen­eral, Rod Rosen­stein, who rec­om­mended the fir­ing.

And he took on Robert Mueller, whose spe­cial-coun­sel in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian med­dling in the 2016 elec­tion and po­ten­tial ties be­tween the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment and Trump cam­paign aides has cast a cloud over Trump’s 6-month-old ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Trump said Mueller was run­ning an of­fice rife with con­flicts of in­ter­est and warned that in­ves­ti­ga­tors would cross a red line if they delved into Trump fam­ily fi­nances un­re­lated to Rus­sia. Trump never said he would or­der the Jus­tice De­part­ment to fire Mueller, nor would he out­line cir­cum­stances un­der which he might do so. But he left open the pos­si­bil­ity as he ex­pressed deep griev­ance over the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Trump con­tended that Mueller’s se­lec­tion for the job was a con­flict of in­ter­est be­cause Trump had in­ter­viewed him to serve as the re­place­ment FBI di­rec­tor.

He also lobbed con­flict-of-in­ter­est ac­cu­sa­tions at McCabe and Rosen­stein.

When Ses­sions re­cused him­self, the pres­i­dent said, Trump was ir­ri­tated to learn where Rosen­stein was from. “There are very few Repub­li­cans in Bal­ti­more, if any,” he said of the pre­dom­i­nantly Demo­cratic city.

He com­plained that Rosen­stein had in ef­fect been on both sides when it came to Comey. The deputy at­tor­ney gen­eral rec­om­mended Comey be fired but then ap­pointed

Mueller, who may be in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether the dis­missal was an ob­struc­tion of jus­tice. “Well, that’s a con­flict of in­ter­est,” Trump said. “Do you know how many con­flicts of in­ter­est there are?”

As for McCabe, the act­ing FBI di­rec­tor, the pres­i­dent sug­gested that he, too, had a con­flict. McCabe’s wife,

Jill McCabe, re­ceived nearly $500,000 in 2015 dur­ing a los­ing cam­paign for the Vir­ginia state Se­nate from a po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee af­fil­i­ated with Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a close friend of Hil­lary and Bill Clin­ton.

The Jus­tice De­part­ment de­clined to com­ment on the in­ter­view.

Trump’s pique at Ses­sions seemed fresh even months af­ter the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s re­cusal. Ses­sions was the first se­na­tor to en­dorse Trump’s can­di­dacy and was re­warded with a key Cab­i­net slot, but he has been more dis­tant from the pres­i­dent lately.

“Jeff Ses­sions takes the job, gets into the job, re­cuses him­self, which frankly I think is very un­fair to the pres­i­dent,” Trump said. “How do you take a job and then re­cuse your­self? If he would have re­cused him­self be­fore the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I’m not go­ing to take you.’ It’s ex­tremely un­fair — and that’s a mild word — to the pres­i­dent.”

Trump also faulted Ses­sions for his tes­ti­mony dur­ing Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings, when Ses­sions said he had not met with any Rus­sians even though he had met at least twice with Am­bas­sador Sergey Kislyak.

“Jeff Ses­sions gave some bad an­swers,” the pres­i­dent said. “He gave some an­swers that were sim­ple ques­tions and should have been sim­ple an­swers, but they weren’t.”

A spokesman for Ses­sions de­clined to com­ment Wednes­day.

‘NOT UN­DER IN­VES­TI­GA­TION’

While the in­ter­view touched on an ar­ray of is­sues, in­clud­ing health care, for­eign af­fairs and pol­i­tics, the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion dom­i­nated the con­ver­sa­tion. Trump said that as far as he knew, he was not un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion him­self, de­spite re­ports that Mueller is look­ing at whether the pres­i­dent ob­structed jus­tice by fir­ing Comey.

“I don’t think we’re un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” he said. “I’m not un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion. For what? I didn’t do any­thing wrong.”

De­scrib­ing a newly dis­closed in­for­mal con­ver­sa­tion he had with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin dur­ing a din­ner of world lead­ers in Ger­many ear­lier this month, Trump said they talked for about 15 min­utes, mostly about “pleas­antries” but that they also talked “about adop­tions.” Putin banned Amer­i­can adop­tions of Rus­sian chil­dren in 2012 af­ter the U.S. en­acted sanc­tions on Rus­sians ac­cused of hu­man-rights abuses, an is­sue that re­mains a sore point in re­la­tions with Moscow.

Trump ac­knowl­edged that it was “in­ter­est­ing” that adop­tions came up since his son, Don­ald Trump Jr., said that was the topic of a meet­ing he had with sev­eral Rus­sians with ties to the Krem­lin dur­ing last year’s cam­paign. Even though emails show that the ses­sion had been set up to pass along in­crim­i­nat­ing in­for­ma­tion about Hil­lary Clin­ton, the pres­i­dent said he did not need such ma­te­rial from Rus­sia be­cause he al­ready had more than enough.

The pres­i­dent added a new al­le­ga­tion against Comey, whose dis­missal has be­come a cen­tral is­sue for crit­ics who said it amounts to an at­tempt to ob­struct the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Trump re­called that a lit­tle more than two weeks be­fore

his in­au­gu­ra­tion, Comey and other in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials briefed him at Trump Tower on Rus­sian med­dling. Comey af­ter­ward pulled Trump aside and told him about a dossier that had been as­sem­bled by a former Bri­tish spy and was filled with sala­cious al­le­ga­tions against the in­com­ing pres­i­dent. The FBI has not cor­rob­o­rated the most sen­sa­tional as­ser­tions in the dossier.

In the in­ter­view, Trump said he be­lieves that Comey told him about the dossier to im­plic­itly make clear he had some­thing to hold over the pres­i­dent.

“In my opin­ion, he shared it so that I would think he had it out there,” Trump said. As lever­age? “Yeah, I think so,” Trump said. “In ret­ro­spect.”

The pres­i­dent dis­missed the as­ser­tions in the dossier: “When he brought it to me, I said this is re­ally, made-up junk. I didn’t think about any of it. I just thought about ‘man, this is such a phony deal.’”

Comey de­clined to com­ment Wednes­day.

But Comey and other in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials de­cided it was best for him to raise the sub­ject with Trump alone be­cause he was go­ing to re­main as FBI di­rec­tor. Comey tes­ti­fied be­fore Congress that he dis­closed the de­tails of the dossier to Trump be­cause he thought that the me­dia would soon be pub­lish­ing de­tails from it and that Trump had a right to know what in­for­ma­tion was out there about him.

Trump de­nied Comey’s claim that in a one-on-one meet­ing in the Oval Of­fice on Feb. 14, the pres­i­dent asked him to end the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into his former na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, Michael Flynn. Comey tes­ti­fied be­fore Congress that Trump kicked the vice pres­i­dent, at­tor­ney gen­eral and sev­eral other se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials out of the room be­fore hav­ing the dis­cus­sion with Comey.

“I don’t re­mem­ber even talk­ing to him about any of

this stuff,” Trump said. “He said I asked peo­ple to go. Look, you look at his tes­ti­mony. His tes­ti­mony is loaded up with lies, OK?”

In his first de­scrip­tion of his din­ner­time con­ver­sa­tion with Putin at the Group of 20 sum­mit in Ham­burg, Ger­many, Trump down­played its sig­nif­i­cance. He said his wife, Me­la­nia, was seated next to Putin at the other end of a ta­ble filled with world lead­ers.

“The meal was go­ing to­ward dessert,” he said. “I went down just to say hello to Me­la­nia, and while I was there I said hello to Putin. Re­ally, pleas­antries more than any­thing else. It was not a long con­ver­sa­tion, but it was, you know, could be 15 min­utes. Just talked about things. Ac­tu­ally, it was very in­ter­est­ing, we talked about adop­tion.”

He noted the adop­tion is­sue came up in the June 2016 meet­ing be­tween his son and the Rus­sian vis­i­tors.

“I ac­tu­ally talked about Rus­sian adop­tion with him,” he said, re­fer­ring to Putin. “Which is in­ter­est­ing be­cause it was a part of the con­ver­sa­tion that Don had in that meet­ing.”

But the pres­i­dent re­peated that he did not know about his son’s meet­ing at the time and added that he did not need the Rus­sians to pro­vide dam­ag­ing in­for­ma­tion about Clin­ton.

“There wasn’t much I could say about Hil­lary Clin­ton that was worse than what I was al­ready say­ing,” he said. “Un­less some­body said that she shot some­body in the back, there wasn’t much I could add to my reper­toire.” In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Pe­ter Baker, Michael S. Sch­midt and Mag­gie Haber­man of The New York

Times and by staff mem­bers of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

Ses­sions

Comey

Mueller

Rosen­stein

McCabe

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