Sessions vows to stay despite Trump’s jabs
Will do job ‘as long as that is appropriate,’ he declares
WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions vowed Thursday to stay in his job, a day after President Donald Trump upbraided him for recusing from the Russia investigation.
Asked whether he was considering resigning, Sessions said he and his Justice Department colleagues intend to continue to serve and that he would do so “as long as that is appropriate.”
“The work we are doing today is the kind of work that we intend to continue,” he said at a news conference announcing the dismantling of
an online operation that sold narcotics and other illicit goods. The news conference on the drug case was ended once it was clear reporters would only ask about a Wednesday New York Times interview in which Trump harshly criticized his attorney general.
“I am totally confident that we can continue to run this office in an effective way,” Sessions added.
Trump’s confidence in Sessions, a former U.S.
senator from Alabama and an early supporter of his during the presidential campaign, has wavered since Sessions recused himself in March from the inquiry into possible ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.
His recusal followed revelations that he failed to disclose contacts with the Russian ambassador. He offered to resign this spring as his relationship with the president grew tense, but Trump turned him down.
Trump said in the Times interview that he never would have nominated Sessions had he known he would recuse himself from overseeing the Russia investigation, which has dogged Trump’s presidency.
“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 said.
Yet Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a deputy press secretary, said at the White House daily briefing Thursday that the president had confidence in Sessions despite being “disappointed” by the recusal. She said the president had not spoken with Sessions since the interview was published, but that if Trump wanted him removed from the job, it would have happened already.
“Clearly, he has confidence in him, or he would not be the attorney general,” Sanders said. Sessions has said he recused himself because of his involvement with the Trump presidential campaign. As a result, Rod Rosenstein, whom Trump appointed as deputy attorney general, took charge of the investigation, although Rosenstein later appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to oversee it.
Trump, in the interview, also criticized the attorney general for his responses to questions in his Senate confirmation hearing, where he was asked about his Russia contacts. “Jeff Sessions gave some bad answers,” Trump said.
Roger Stone, a longtime Trump political adviser, said much of the Russia-related scrutiny began with Sessions.
“Everything that is happening was triggered by Sessions’ recusal,” said Stone, who ticked off the succession of appointments related to the Russia investigation, culminating with Mueller’s appointment as special counsel.
“The president initially bonded with Sessions because he saw him as a tough guy,” Stone said. “Now he’s saying: ‘Where’s my tough guy? Why doesn’t he have my back?’”
Sessions was once thought to be one of Trump’s closest advisers, and he was the first senator to endorse Trump at a time when few Republican lawmakers supported the candidate.
In public, Sessions wouldn’t shy from linking his department’s priorities with Trump’s. When he directed federal prosecutors across the country Tuesday to make immigration cases a higher priority, for example, he declared, “This is the Trump era.”
Were Sessions to resign or be fired, Mueller would be overseen by his successor, who Trump would pick but who would require Senate confirmation. The attorney general can veto the special counsel’s decisions but is not supposed to offer day-to-day supervision.
Several people close to Trump — including his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., who also has been ensnared in the Russia investigation — have told the president that they, too, believe Sessions’ decision to recuse himself was a mistake, according to three White House and outside advisers who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., who served on the Judiciary Committee with Sessions, questioned how Sessions could continue in his job after the president undermined him.
“If there was ever a clear vote of no confidence by a president in his attorney general, it was the New York Times interview,” Durbin said. “I don’t see how he can continue in this critical role in this administration.”
But defense attorney William Jeffress, who represented former President Richard Nixon, said he’s concerned that Trump’s rhetoric about Sessions reveals a larger misunderstanding of the attorney general’s role.
“I really think that the president needs to understand and appreciate the independence of law enforcement,” Jeffress said, adding that the president is “just wrong” to look at the attorney general as someone responsible for protecting Trump’s personal interests.
PARDONS AND CONFLICTS
Later Thursday, the Times and The Washington Post reported that Trump’s lawyers and aides were exploring ways to limit or undercut Mueller’s Russia investigation, mainly by building a case against what they allege are his conflicts of interest, according to several people familiar with the effort.
Trump has also asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with the investigation, one of those people told the
Post. A second person told the
Post that Trump’s lawyers have been discussing the president’s pardoning powers among themselves.
Trump’s legal team declined to comment on the issue. But one adviser cautioned that the president has simply expressed a curiosity in understanding the reach of his pardoning authority, as well as the limits of Mueller’s investigation.
“This is not in the context of, ‘I can’t wait to pardon myself,’” the adviser told the Post.
Trump’s lawyers are working to corral the probe and question the propriety of the special counsel’s work, sources told the Post. They are actively compiling a list of Mueller’s alleged potential conflicts of interest, which they say could serve as a way to stymie his work, several of Trump’s legal advisers said.
Further adding to the challenges facing Trump’s outside lawyers, the team’s spokesman, Mark Corallo, resigned Thursday, according to two people familiar with his departure. Corallo was one of several people cautioning against publicly criticizing Mueller, the Times reported.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, accompanied at a news conference Thursday by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, said, “I am totally confident that we can continue to run this office in an effective way.”